Connecting the spheres of trade and gender: creating a gender-conscious World Trade Organization.

Author:Montour, Lyndsay J.

    Globalization is an intricate economic, political, cultural, and geographic process during which the movement of resources, organizations, ideals, discourses, and peoples become progressively global or transnational. (2) Pure economic globalization theory recognizes the market as the sole, legitimate institution and the only logical path to growth and prosperity. (3) Women play a major economic role in driving globalization, mainly because they participate in worldwide agriculture, small and micro-enterprises, and export-processing industries. (4) Without including household labor and informal economic activity, women encompass 854 million workers of the global workforce. (5)

    Human rights globalization has developed parallel to trade and economic globalization. (6) However, human rights and economic issues are constantly placed into two different spheres that require separate documents and political bodies to govern them. (7) over time, policymakers recognized the relationship between humanitarian and economic issues, and acknowledged that sustainable development could not be achieved without investing in women and reducing gender inequality. (8) The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)--an international plan to attain global development by 2015--recognized that promoting gender equality and empowering women are necessary steps toward economic, political, and social development. (9) The United Nations conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) acknowledges that trade can have significant implications on gender equality, and vice versa. (10)

    Nevertheless, most discussions of international trade policy do not include gender concerns, and trade-agreement language continues to be gender neutral. (11) Trade's negative implications on gender equality undermine World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, and the WTO's dedication to sustainable development. (12) The WTO ignores trade policies' detrimental effects on women, and allows WTO members to hide under a "veil of ignorance." (13)

    This Note will analyze whether the WTO can become a gender-conscious trade organization and promote gender equality, specifically utilizing labor regulations and gender-conscious policies. (14) Part II.A will discuss international gender-equality initiatives, and gender equality's importance in international development. (15) Part II.B will discuss the European Union (EU) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and how these trade agreements use economic incentives and gender-conscious trade language to promote gender equality. (16) Part II.C will discuss the WTO's history and structure, including its dispute-settlement system and various side agreements. (17) Part III will analyze the possibilities of incorporating gender mainstreaming into the WTO; establishing a trade and gender committee; expanding Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to recognize gender-equality measures as exceptions to following trade obligations; and creating a side labor agreement that promotes gender equality in labor. (18)


    1. The International Commitment to Gender Equality

      1. The Gendered Impacts of Trade Liberalization

        Trade liberalization impacts women differently than men because women have disparate control over economic resources. (19) Countries with a low-cost-labor comparative advantage experience increased labor demands resulting from international trade expansion, which may benefit the larger economy, but fails to reduce wage disparities among workers, especially women. (20) Although trade tends to increase formal work opportunities, numerous other factors, such as social norms in the home and at work, counteract these opportunities, resulting in women's diminished ability to fully benefit from trade expansion. (21) While trade liberalization does not cause gender inequality, increased trade can significantly change a country's economic conditions, intensifying existing gender-based inequalities. (22)

        Increasing international trade and market liberalization has a unique effect on women, especially in the major sectors of trade: agriculture, manufacturing, and services. (23) Agricultural trade liberalization most directly harms women because they often lack access to the resources necessary to produce export crops, namely credit, education, and enforceable property rights. (24) Agricultural trade liberalization has historically only benefited medium- and large-scale farms, rather than the small subsistence farms, which are the farms most women employed in agriculture work on. (25) Although manufacturing employers aim to hire female workers, these jobs do not provide women with secure, long-term employment because labor conditions encourage high turnover rates and the female workforce is considered expendable. (26) Manufacturing employment reinforces gender norms, because employers target women as ideal manufacturing workers due to "their docility, their manual dexterity, their disinclination to unionize, their acceptance of lower pay, and their willingness to tolerate monotonous and repetitive work." (27) Service-oriented jobs create new employment opportunities; however, women are often segregated into lower-paying jobs (such as tourism, hospitality services, and social services) while only a small number are employed in higher paying, financial services jobs. (28) Service-oriented jobs are especially unstable because any wage increase or technological advancement could result in companies outsourcing the jobs. (29)

        Across the world, many countries have adopted an export-led development strategy, which usually results in more opportunities for women in low-tech, labor-intensive industrial jobs. (30) The availability of paid jobs has allowed women to escape from the most extreme poverty conditions, but does not necessarily provide them with economic stability and prosperity. (31) Unfortunately, patriarchal social and economic norms continue to disadvantage women in the global society. (32)

      2. International Agreements: Recognizing the Importance of Gender Equality

        Gender equality is a fundamental global principle, and is articulated in numerous international agreements. (33) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was the first formal recognition of women's equality as a fundamental human right. (34) The UDHR states "[e]veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as ... sex." (35) The rights and freedoms included in the UDHR consist of the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to education, and the right to own property. (36) The United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the UDHR in response to the general need for world unity and international collaboration following World War II. (37) Since World War II, human rights and gender equality concerns have remained important parts of international policy agendas. (38)

        In response to widespread economic underdevelopment, the UN General Assembly created the MDGs as a global compact between rich and poor countries to end world poverty. (39) The MDGs recognize that countries cannot achieve sustainable development without investing in women and reducing the inequalities faced by women in both developed and developing nations. (40)

        In addition to the general recognition of women's rights, the global community has identified the connection between gender equality and trade and labor relations. (41) For example, the Beijing Declaration directly states that "national policies related to international and regional trade agreements [should] not have an adverse impact on women's new and traditional economic activities." (42) The International Labor Organization (ILO) recognizes that gender equality is necessary to achieve the global aim of providing decent work for both men and women. (43) The ILO and Beijing Declaration further emphasize that gender equality is an important international goal, and cannot be achieved without incorporating gender-mainstreaming ideals into trade policies. (44)

      3. Gender Mainstreaming: A Strategy for Gender-Conscious Policy Development

        Gender mainstreaming is a strategy that promotes gender equality by incorporating gender issues into policy development, research, advocacy, legislation, resource allocation, and program implementation and monitoring. (45) The UN, along with other international organizations and agencies, recognizes the importance of gender mainstreaming as an essential element of its commitment to gender equality. (46) Gender mainstreaming requires constant recognition and understanding of women's experiences. (47) Incorporating a gendered perspective into policy discussions means systematically examining and "mobilising all general policies and measures specifically for the purpose of achieving equality by actively and openly taking into account at the planning stage their possible effects on the respective situations of men and women." (48)

    2. Existence of Gender Mainstreaming in Trade: The EU and NAFTA Many regional trade bodies have incorporated gender mainstreaming into their regimes and policies. (49) The EU and NAFTA are two regional trade organizations that exemplify trade agreements' unique potential to affect gender equality through trade relations. (50) Gender mainstreaming is embedded in the EU's and NAFTA's trade principles, especially concerning labor provisions. (51)

      1. The EU

        The EU's fundamental principles of human rights include "[e]quality between women and men ... in all areas, including employment, work and pay." (52) The EU has evolved since its inception as a purely economic trade union into a more diplomatic organization promoting human rights, including gender equality. (53) The Treaty of Amsterdam amended the EU Treaty, and confirmed that the EU was "founded on the principles of liberty...

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