Working Papers

Women in Services Trade: Participation and Ownership, A Sub-Saharan African Focus

Women in Services Trade: Participation and Ownership, A Sub-Saharan African Focus

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15 Dec 2017

Author(s): Gavin van der Nest

Trade in services makes an increasingly important contribution to economic growth, employment, and poverty reduction in countries across the globe. There is also mounting evidence to suggest that trade in services can provide gender-specific benefits, such as increased participation of women in exports of services and improved mobility abroad, as well as greater access to energy, telecommunications, education and health services through imports.

Research has shown however that the share of women’s employment in services in developing countries remains highly concentrated in low- and mid-skilled occupations, suggesting that women fail to have the same opportunities as men in gaining access to the full range of services and occupations that men enjoy. Gender inequalities which manifest themselves in economic transactions, relations, and institutions have an adverse impact on women’s participation in services and restricts the competitiveness of the sector. It also limits the ability of women to benefit from opportunities created by services trade and service sector growth. Furthermore, although increased female employment in services may come with an expansion in trade, this is not always matched with an equal reduction in poverty. Ill-conceived trade liberalisation may raise risks in respect to constraining access to essential services which may generate unemployment. In light of these challenges, it is vital that trade and other policies be designed and implemented in such a way as to maximise opportunities for all.

This Working Paper provides an overview of the participation of women in services in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting common constraints that women face in services trade as well as ascertaining the importance of economic, educational, health and survival, and political empowerment in the realisation of female participation in ownership, management and full-time employment. A brief overview of gender specific policies as well as their application in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa is provided. It is argued that specific and targeted policy interventions would go a long way in ensuring that the benefits of growth in services accrue to both men and women.


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