Mainstreaming Gender and Trade Policy in CARICOM

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By Jan Yves Remy (Director, SRC) and Tonni Brodber (Representative, UN Women, Caribbean)

Dr Jan Yves Remy

It would be remiss not to highlight the significant progress made recently in advancing the agenda on trade and gender equality in CARICOM: under the incoming Chairmanship of Barbados, UNCTAD XV organized an inaugural forum on gender equality Gender and Development, led by Caribbean feminists, with the strong voices of the Global South represented in the Outcome Declaration; for the first time ever, the Shridath Ramphal Center (SRC) hosted a 9-day WTO webinar on Women and Trade in the Americas; and last year, UN Women, Caribbean published a dedicated study on the subject, with a focus on the Caribbean.

But even with these milestones, the Caribbean region lags behind in its study, understanding and advocacy on the topic of trade and gender. This is unfortunate because, being among the most vulnerable to trade in the world, the Caribbean region presents a fascinating case for exploring the history of women in trade, gender considerations in the existing trade framework and their implications for development. sustainable.

On this International Women’s Day, and in light of this year‘s theme “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Future”, we have come together to explore the impact of current trade policies on CARICOM on women and how CARICOM pursues its trade and development policy. Trade policy remains a key development strategy and must be used, to greater effect, to promote gender equality and sustainable development in the region.

How do women appear in CARICOM Trade?

CARICOM countries are among the most trade-dependent and open economies in the world, and trade is a major cornerstone of their economies, essential for economic growth and development. Extra-regional trade is dominated by relations with the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada and, increasingly, China. While some are rooted in commodity trading, today our economies are predominantly service-based, with market services focused on the tourism and financial services sectors.

Our business performance over the past 40 years has declined or stagnated, and the region is generally considered one of the least competitive in the world. Intra-regional trade continues to lag behind other regional groupings, accounting for only 12.5% ​​of total CARICOM exports in 2016. The region’s vulnerability to natural disasters as well as its chronic indebtedness aggravate our commercial profile, meaning governments struggle to meet public spending on basic social systems like health and education, which impact marginalized and low-income groups. Economic shutdowns and global supply disruptions from COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on fragile economies, including tourism, leading to a 73% drop in international arrivals worldwide by the end of 2020. CARICOM’s economic and climate vulnerabilities have had and continue to have severe impacts. for vulnerable groups, especially women. To paraphrase UN Women’s report on the impact of COVID-19, these intersecting vulnerabilities mean that women are more exposed to negative shocks like COVID-19 than men.

Trade liberalization policy, as practiced in the Caribbean, has not been sensitive to the differential impact on men and women. Moreover, we in the world of commerce have underestimated the historical and current profile of women as producers, traders and consumers. Historically, women’s participation in trade was in agricultural production, particularly during and after the colonial period, giving way in the 1980s and 1990s, in some countries such as Jamaica and Haiti, to employment – often under mediocre – in the exclusive economic zones.

When agriculture declined on many islands, the region’s exportable services – particularly in tourism and travel-related sectors – were dominated by women, but even here they occupy lower-paying positions and continue to work. be vulnerable to external shocks, such as the pandemic. Even in areas with export potential, including agro-industry, they are overtaken by men. While women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are increasingly niche, they continue to be concentrated in low-growth areas; and many do not have as much access to finance as male entrepreneurs.

Informality is another feature of women’s participation in the labor and tradable goods sectors. For many women single-headed households, informal care work has not only been integral to their and their families’ livelihoods, but also to the Caribbean economy as a whole. Efforts to support the transition of women entrepreneurs from the informal to the formal sector have not been successful.

Finally, Caribbean women experience trade policy as consumers and single parents. As primary caregivers, they are often responsible for food, safety and nutrition. With declining economic fortunes on many islands, women have to resort to cheaper – often less nutritious – imports to feed their families. This has contributed to the region’s high food import bill and translates into limited spending on support and space to subsidize care, health and education that impact women and their families.

Some gains but not enough…

While women have made progress under some equality indicators – including the removal of discriminatory legislation; and an equal number in education – systemic and entrenched issues like gender-based violence, poor integration into leadership positions and low entry rates as entrepreneurs continue to damage their economic and business performance.

The Caribbean feminist agenda, which has gone through a number of movements, and has been spearheaded for a long time by CAFRA, which has spearheaded the region’s gains under CEDAW and the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing in 1995. Today, beyond a rejection of trade liberalization, the specificities regarding the gender and trade agenda within the network of Caribbean women’s and equality organizations focus on creating an enabling environment for women to engage equitably in trade. This includes promoting gender-sensitive social protection measures such as subsidized childcare, paid parental leave and equal pay for equal work. The private sector and the international community are committed to supporting women-owned businesses through skills building, increased access to finance as well as networking opportunities, and are supported by projects such as Compete Caribbean, the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s We-Xport project and the ITC-developed SheTrades Outlook policy tool capture new data on trade and gender to better inform policy and program formulation to support women in business.

At the trade and economic policy level, CARICOM’s promotion of gender equality through trade policies and agreements is disappointing. Many CARICOM countries signed the 2017 WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires and, ahead of WTO MC12, the 2021 Joint Ministerial Declaration on Promoting Gender Equality and economic empowerment in trade, and all subscribe to SDG 5 to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. But this has not been accompanied by real policies at the national level to promote and mainstream gender According to a recent UN ECLAC study, eight Caribbean countries have national development plans that mainstream gender, and trade remains virtually gender-neutral despite its widely accepted gender dimensions .

The rate of incorporation of gender provisions in its CARICOM trade agreements is among the lowest. Using the ITC survey that measures the gender sensitivity of trade provisions, CARICOM trade agreements – including those with the European Union, the United Kingdom and bilateral agreements with some Latin American countries – have been analyzed and found to be “completely or nearly blind or gender neutral” because they have not mainstreamed gender concerns.

At the institutional level, some work has been done by CARICOM that focuses on health and social themes and on sexual violence against women and girls. But hardly any on integrating trade and gender concerns and actively pursuing them in trade agreements.

Let’s start with us…

Despite growing global recognition of the links between trade and gender, and the role trade can play in promoting women’s empowerment, CARICOM Member States have not demonstrated a clear understanding the differentiated impact on women who encounter the commercial space as producers, traders and consumers; nor have they adequately and sufficiently incorporated gender equality provisions into their trade agreements to date. Other countries around the world, including developing countries, have shown that, if negotiated from a gender perspective, trade can result in more job opportunities, better trade relations, better market access and fewer barriers to accessing finance and other productive resources for women, all of which remain issues that impede progress in CARICOM states.

It’s time to move beyond rhetoric to transformative policies that work for women. Transformation begins with an unconditional recognition of the problem facing women, an open approach to understanding the dimensions of the problem, and an unwavering commitment from business and gender groups to work collaboratively to promote the region’s sustainable development through sustainable development. advancement of women.

We at RSC and UN Women have come together to begin. Hopefully others will follow.

Jan Yves Remy is Director of the Shridath Ramphal Center for International Trade Law, Policy and Services, UWI, Cave Hill Campus; Tonni Brodber is the UN Women Cluster Office Representative for the Caribbean.

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