Trade policies are not gender-neutral — far from it. Trade takes place in the context of economic conditions and institutions that tend to be shaped by gender values, and this has two implications. On the one hand, trade leads to outcomes that vary by gender in the different economic roles men and women play as workers, producers and consumers. On the other hand, gender inequalities tend to affect export competitiveness and trade performance. For example, asymmetric distribution of productive resources, limited access to information and markets, inadequate productive capacity and weak infrastructure all lead to different opportunities for men and women.
The gender impact of trade policies is context-specific and needs to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. This intriguing specificity is illustrated by a case study titled "East African Community Regional Integration: Trade and Gender Implications" that was carried out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and will be released in May 2018. The EAC was formed in 2000 by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Rwanda and Burundi joined the treaty in 2007 and South Sudan joined in 2016. The two cornerstones of the regional integration process — a Customs Union and common market — both came into full effect in 2010.
Sectoral composition of economic activity has changed significantly during the EAC’s regional integration process, with a shift away from agriculture and toward services and, to a lesser extent, industry. The shift in employment structure was relatively weak; agriculture remains the dominant sector of employment in the EAC, especially for women. Women’s employment in services mainly increased in low-skilled services such as trade and tourism, while men accessed more positions in high-skilled services such as transport and communication. In the EAC, women are predominantly employed as own-account workers and contributing family workers — the two forms of vulnerable employment — as opposed to men, for whom wage-salary work is more common. Women also account for a higher share of informal employment.
Women in the EAC face important supply-side constraints while participating in the economy. Indeed, despite significant progress in adult literacy and primary education, access to secondary and tertiary education continues to be limited, especially for women. Limited access to land and credit also constrains women’s successful participation in the economy, particularly as producers. Despite the introduction of equal property rights for men and women, there is still a significant gender gap in access to land. Women have less access to formal sources of credit than men. Women also shoulder a higher share of unpaid care work than men. This, in turn, limits the number of hours they can devote to paid work, constrains their mobility and limits their access to market resources and information.
The Impact of Tariff Liberalization on Women’s Employment in Manufacturing
According to the empirical analysis, overall EAC trade integration led to an increase in women’s employment share in manufacturing firms in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, while women workers in Burundi were negatively affected. The case of Rwanda could not be analyzed due to data constraints.
These employment effects were realized only for production workers — production tasks mostly coincide with blue-collar jobs, while non-production tasks refer to activities related to management, sales or administrative tasks.
Similar effects were observed from tariff liberalization in export markets outside the EAC, but the impact was much smaller. The positive impact might be because technological upgrading, induced by trade liberalization, enables women to have more access to jobs previously dominated by men. It should be highlighted that the positive effects observed only for production workers might also be indicative of cost-cutting strategies by exporting firms. Especially given the gender wage gap, firms might be hiring relatively more women production workers to reduce unit costs. It is, therefore, critical to enforce labour protection laws. Finally, firms that are export-oriented and have international certification tend to employ more women than others.
Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policy
A number of policy instruments emerge as priority areas to support gender mainstreaming in trade policy in the EAC. The same instruments may prove useful in other regional settings as well, given the similar constraints and issues faced by women under trade reforms. There is a need for both supply-side and demand-side policies to ease the transfer of labour from agriculture to expanding sectors.
- On the supply side: besides expanding formal higher education, training and skill development programs targeting women need to be expanded in higher value-added sectors. Moreover, credit and entrepreneurship programs and programs to support gender-equitable land tenure are important to ease women’s access to key resources. Increased availability of childcare facilities is also critical to reduce women’s unpaid care burden.
- On the demand side: policies such as targeted input subsidies, technological investments and extension and advisory services could be a useful tool for expanding production in higher value-added sectors. Implementing incentive programs that encourage more domestic firms to open up to international markets and get international certification could also boost female employment in manufacturing.
- Building capacity: gender-related capacity-building mechanisms (such as entrepreneurship and business training, skill development and access to finance, etc.) are critical for the successful participation of women in the economy under trade reforms. Some EAC members have already introduced such programs; however, they need to be developed further to extend their reach and impact, and they should be initiated in cases where they do not exist.
- Market access and value chains: women’s associations and cooperatives should be supported to enhance women’s access to market information and opportunities. Gender-based value chain analyses need to be conducted to identify areas for intervention. Development assistance programs could also be designed so that they reach small entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, in value chains.
EAC members introduced various gender frameworks, and some EAC members introduced gender considerations into their trade policy. More recently, the East African Legislative Assembly passed the EAC Gender Equality and Development Bill on March 8, 2017, with the aim of harmonizing existing gender frameworks across members. EAC members may consider this bill as an opportunity to develop a region-wide approach to mainstreaming gender in trade policy. The EAC could play a leading role in uniform and improved collection of gender-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive implementation of SDGs. The EAC could also introduce regional funds as a leverage effect, build platforms for peer learning and monitor actions taken by members toward gender equality.
Finally, overcoming gender norms and stereotypes that impede or limit women’s successful participation in the economy under trade reforms requires long-term advocacy campaigns. The EAC could play a critical role by efficiently promoting such campaigns among its members.