The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws in the global economy. On the one hand, we’ve seen resilient businesses and entrepreneurs quickly adapt to changing business conditions and thrive, using digital commerce and e-commerce to reach their customers. On the other hand, the COVID-19 crisis has pushed up to 2 million women, especially mothers of young children, to leave the workforce or take a step back from their careers, according to a McKinsey report. .
But we have a chance to bridge this gap.
We have all heard the expression “a crisis is a terrible wasted opportunity”. A crisis like the one we are experiencing now offers a chance to bring about late change. Improving outcomes for women should be at the top of the global COVID-19 recovery strategy. Helping women adjust to the new normal and providing them with the tools to operate their businesses and engage in international trade will be essential to rebuilding economies and communities.
We need to start by recognizing that trade is a positive force that has created opportunities for women around the world to enter the formal labor market. Trade has also increased healthy competitive pressures that have reduced systemic biases against women in traditionally male-dominated industries. Through trade, women entrepreneurs have finally had the opportunity to gain greater financial independence by expanding the markets where they can sell their goods or services.
But there are still too many forces – including national policies – that continue to limit women’s ability to fully engage in trade. According to the World Bank’s 2021 report on Women, Business and the Law, women have only 75% of the legal rights accorded to men, and 40% of countries have laws that restrict women’s participation in the labor market. job. Even in countries where there is full gender parity under the law, women face challenges due to limitations in their ability to hold property on their behalf, difficulties in accessing finance, or prejudices. persistent in some occupations. These barriers often hamper women’s ability to lead in organizations, own their own businesses and do business across borders.
The 2017 Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade, which promotes the economic empowerment of women, was an important step in ensuring that gender is part of trade policy discussions. Since then, there have been many important advances towards the consecration of gender equality within the World Trade Organization (WTO) and among its members, including the expansion of the number of signatories of the Declaration of Buenos Areas with 127 members and the creation in 2020 of the Informal Group on Trade and Gender. . But more needs to be done.
Beyond the trade policy environment, the private sector has an important role to play in empowering more women. Equal opportunity for women is a high priority for UPS, which is why we have incorporated it into our business strategy and UPS Foundation initiatives. In 2018, for example, UPS and the UPS Foundation launched our Women Exporters Program to empower women entrepreneurs to engage in international trade and provide a supportive community for their new businesses. To date, we have trained more than 16,000 women and small business owners in 89 countries.
At UPS, our goal statement is to “move our world forward by delivering what matters”. In many ways, the statement took on greater significance during the pandemic. We want to deliver what matters when it comes to empowering women entrepreneurs and business owners. So beyond our own export agenda, we advocated for policy change by partnering with other companies and thought about advancing policy recommendations that could support women entrepreneurs. Together we issued a call to action [insert link to white paper] on how WTO members can support women entrepreneurs. Ahead of the WTO Ministerial Conference, we encourage the policymakers present to act on these recommendations rather than continuing to debate them endlessly.
One specific action that all WTO members can take that is universally applicable is trade facilitation. Trade facilitation measures reduce the time, cost and complexity of doing business. But women are often not among the key decision-making bodies when customs and trade facilitation measures are discussed in their country. We call on WTO members to commit to including women in national trade facilitation committees and in the consultation process.
Another area that needs special attention is supporting women-owned businesses that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and face some of the biggest obstacles to recovery. Capacity building and targeted assistance to help women are essential.
Eliminating tariffs on products used only by women (so-called “pink” tariffs or taxes]is another area where applying a gender lens to current trade policies would be crucial to create a level playing field. for women exporters and consumers.
Finally, we must address and change the many national laws and regulations that make it difficult for women to engage in the global economy. Going forward, we should encourage countries to make additional commitments on market access for services by eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex in their country-specific service schedules.
Trade will continue to drive prosperity, innovation and opportunity around the world. We need a global initiative to make it easier for women to reap these benefits. We can energize the global economy by unleashing the power of women entrepreneurs and ensuring that gender is no longer a restriction on trade.
About the authors
Director of Corporate Affairs, UPS