Trade Forum Features

Gender equality benefits women and trade

14 January 2013
ITC News
Norway requires that its partners in development cooperation, whether they are governments, international institutions or NGOs, demonstrate that they take women and gender equality seriously. A clear priority in Norway’s Aid for Trade Action Plan is to promote the economic position of women.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) is an important partner for Norway, not least because of its broad focus on women and trade and gender mainstreaming policy. All women must have the same opportunities as men. This is a matter of fundamental human rights, but also of sound economic policy. There are several explanations for Norway’s transition to prosperity. However, one of the key factors behind this transition is the empowerment and participation of women. Today, three out of four women are employed in the labour market in Norway. This is one of the highest rates of female employment in the world. People tend to think that Norway is rich because of its natural resources. That is only partly true. Just as important for our economic success is the fact that we have chosen policies that allow women to make independent decisions; policies that give women equal opportunities in education and work, including through the provision of childcare.

Development and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities are closely linked to gender equality. Data shows that in global terms women are more significant as drivers of economic growth than China, India or the Internet. There is a fortune to be made by promoting equal rights for women! Governments that uphold discriminatory laws and exclude women from the workforce should be aware that such practices come at a price. That price is much lower living standards and levels of welfare for society as a whole.

Globalization and trade can, and do, play important roles in increasing female employment rates and in achieving greater gender equality. International trade creates jobs, improves access to markets and leads to higher wages. It is important that women be able to tap into the benefits that arise. Research demonstrates that development objectives can be more fully met when women’s incomes are increased. The most recent decades have also seen changes in patterns of female employment. Women have left the agriculture sector for the manufacturing sector and, in particular, the service sector, and this has usually resulted in them earning higher wages.

Norway is a strong and consistent supporter of ITC’s Women and Trade Programme, which targets women entrepreneurs as well as women working in export-oriented businesses. The programme aims to maximize the economic benefits that women entrepreneurs, traders and vendors obtain from their participation in international trade. ITC works effectively with both the private sector and governments in order to achieve our common objectives in this area.

We are pleased that the programme has shown good results, with increases in sales revenues, rising demand, the expansion of enterprises and, in some cases, job growth. The programme takes a pragmatic approach, which includes engaging in efforts to improve the ability of governments to procure products and services from women-owned businesses. In this context, it has launched various initiatives to highlight women’s lack of access to markets and tenders. Increased transparency and openness result in fairer competition and improved economic opportunities for women traders and entrepreneurs. These are objectives that the Norwegian Government fully endorses. We expect that ITC will continue to focus on improving women’s participation in trade.