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Trade and Women

Publication | January 2017
Trade and Women

Greater trade openness can benefit women in developing economies.

We outline the various channels through which women are part of the global trading economy. It focuses on women as consumers, workers, business owners, and informal cross-border traders. Trade theory offers rich implications for the relationship between gender and trade, but depends on patterns of consumption and production that may differ across countries. As an example, we examine the case of agricultural products, a sector in which products are consumed relatively more intensively by women than by men. The evidence shows that tariffs are higher in this sector, which means that women consumers are disadvantaged relative to men. On the other hand, the extension of export opportunities in developing countries in light manufacturing industries, such as apparel, can offer important prospects for women workers; these opportunities are often their entry point into the formal labor market, and provide an independent income that can change household power dynamics in a favorable way. New empirical evidence from developing country firms shows that internationally engaged firms tend to employ a higher proportion of women workers. However, much remains to be done. Discriminatory norms are deeply engrained in all countries, and are reflected in a global gender wage gap. Moreover, women-owned businesses, although active in the international economy, face specific obstacles that make it harder for them to grow and succeed. Although trade has the potential to support gender-inclusive growth and development, it will be important to get domestic regulatory settings right, so that a positive cycle can result.