Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Etching gender into trade policy in the COMESA region


Etching gender into trade policy in the COMESA region

Etching gender into trade policy in the COMESA region
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Putting gender issues at the heart of trade policy is vital if development is to be inclusive, and training decision makers is a key way to achieve that goal.

Building upon the success of its online course on trade and gender, UNCTAD has broadened the scope of this initiative by tailoring its training for different regions of the globe.

First in line has been the 19-country COMESA, the largest regional economic organization in Africa. Nearly 50 Representatives from COMESA – the Common Market for East and Southern African – have wrapped up their eight-week online course and committed to strengthening the gender perspective in trade policy.

“Together we can make trade policy more gender sensitive, and pave the way for more inclusive prosperity that leaves no one behind,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.

The objective of the course, which was delivered jointly by UNCTAD’s Trade, Gender and Development Programme and COMESA’s Division on Gender and Social Affairs, was to share knowledge on how to analyse the nexus between trade and gender and to provide participants with the skills necessary to formulate gender-related policy recommendations.

Graduates said the course has empowered them with knowledge on the relationship between trade and gender – an important consideration for a regional body which promotes commerce across countries whose combined population is about 390 million.

“The course was an eye opener,” said Mr. Benjamin Masila, Head of the Information and Resource Center at the COMESA secretariat. “I got to learn and understand gender dimensions in various sectors that I would not have taken note of without this course.”

Participants also said the course will help them support gender-responsive policy-making in their respective countries, matching the main goals of the course.

“The course has enabled me to always consider the gender perspective in trade policy formulation, especially with regard to export processing zones,” said Ms. Zodwa Mabuza, Coordinator of the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement, which links the economies of COMESA, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Ms. Nancy Gitonga, Regional Coordinator of the East African Women in Business Platform (EAWiBP), also hailed the course.

“I am now able to identify and analyse a country’s economy through a gender lens and asses how gender biases operate and affect women in the multiple roles they play as workers and producers, traders, consumers, users of public service and as taxpayers,” she said.

The knowledge acquired will enable participants to ensure that gender considerations are front and centre in their research, teaching, policy-making, advocacy and fieldwork.

The online course for COMESA was accompanied by a new teaching module – Trade and gender linkages: An analysis of COMESA – which complements the existing teaching material with data, case studies and an in-depth analysis of the linkages between trade performance and gender equality in the COMESA region.

The course is part of a capacity-building project on trade and gender funded by the governments of Finland and Sweden.

Trade and gender linkages: An analysis of COMESA

This document is the fourth module in the first of two volumes of the teaching manual on trade and gender prepared by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The manual was developed with the aim of enhancing the capacity of a global audience of policymakers, civil society organizations, and academics to mainstream gender into trade policy.

Building upon the content of the previous modules, Module 4 applies the analytical grid previously developed to the member countries of COMESA. The concepts and transmission mechanisms introduced in the training material are employed to understand and outline the interactions between trade and gender inequalities in COMESA countries.

Since COMESA involves countries that differ greatly in terms of economic structures and social development, this module examines the trade and gender nexus through a thematic lens, focusing on common features across the different economic sectors, namely agricultural, manufacturing, and services.

Gender mainstreaming in COMESA

Articles 154 and 155 of the COMESA Treaty recognize the importance of ensuring the effective and equal participation of women, men, and youth to achieve sustainable economic and social development in the region. COMESA members adopted the Regional Gender Policy and the Addis Ababa Declaration on Gender in 2002, and committed to mainstream gender across all areas of socio-economic life and regional integration and cooperation. The COMESA Gender Policy provides a comprehensive gender and development strategy to redress gender inequalities and advance gender-responsive measures at the national and regional levels. It also facilitates the engendering of national legislation by its member states.

In line with these principles, the COMESA Secretariat has been implementing its Gender Mainstreaming Strategic Action Plan since 2009. Sectoral guidelines have been developed and disseminated to provide a practical tool for policymakers to apply gender equality principles to all areas of the regional integration agenda. A specific framework to mainstream gender in the trade sector is also in place to provide insights into measures that help assess the gender redistributive effects of trade. These include strengthening sex-disaggregated data, providing a knowledge base through gender analysis and impact assessments of national and regional trade instruments, formulating a dedicated gender policy for the trade sector, and implementing interventions that advance women’s economic empowerment.

Agricultural sector

The gender implications of agricultural trade policy are complex and multidimensional, as discussed in the core training manual. Trade integration policies do not have clear-cut positive or negative effects on women in agriculture: the effects vary across subgroups of women depending on the agricultural sectors and markets where they are active, and are often double-edged, with different impacts on women as consumers and producers. Note in this respect that the economic roles of men and women in agriculture reflect ingrained socio-cultural norms that vary across and within countries, which adds complexity to the analysis. Furthermore, the competitiveness implications for the sector of gender-based discrimination are complex. As discussed in the core training manual, gender-based inequalities adversely impact women’s productivity on-farm and off-farm, turning women into “underachievers of competitive advantage” in their own enterprises. Yet low-cost female labour can also enhance export competitiveness, turning gender inequality into a “source of competitive advantage” for labour-intensive, export-oriented agri-business. Against this backdrop, this section explores the trade and agriculture gender nexus in relation to the COMESA region. Based on descriptive statistics, it briefly reviews the gendered structure of agriculture in the COMESA region; assesses how gender-specific constraints and inequalities impact trade and agricultural trade potential in COMESA (i.e. how gender inequality affects trade); and considers the potential impacts of COMESA’s agricultural trade and regional integration on rural women (i.e. how trade affects gender).

Manufacturing sector

Although COMESA countries are relatively diverse along many dimensions (economic size, social development, production structures, etc.), this section concentrates on certain common features in order to understand how trade in manufacturing goods affects women in these countries. First to be explored is existing evidence on how women have been affected by similar export-oriented policies in the manufacturing sector adopted in COMESA countries, namely the setting up of export processing zones (EPZs). Second, the section investigates the consequences of tariff changes on gender labour outcomes in the context of future trade agreements of COMESA countries with the European Union and with the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community.

Services sector

COMESA has initiated programmes to promote services trade among its members. The COMESA Treaty explicitly identifies liberalization of trade in services as central to the community’s regional integration objectives. In particular, Articles 4(4)(c), 164, 148, 151, and 152 all present a mandate for COMESA and its member countries to collectively work towards removing barriers to services trade and promoting the free movement of services across the region. In 2009, the Committee on Trade in Services launched efforts to promote services liberalization and adopted the Guidelines for Services Negotiations under the COMESA Regulations on Trade in Services. Furthermore, though at present the TFTA negotiations are focused primarily on merchandize trade across COMESA, SADC, and EAC member states, services can be expected to factor importantly into future discussions. Given the attention this area is receiving from COMESA governments as well as regional and global development organizations, it is critical to consider the implications of liberalized trade in services on gender and women’s economic empowerment.

» Download: Trade and gender linkages: An analysis of COMESA (PDF)


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