19 December 2017, Geneva, Switzerland – Following the endorsement of the Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on 12 December, 2017 at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, UNITAR’s Women Leadership Programme hosted the first of a 5-part high-level seminar series. The series of events is dedicated to opening the discussion on the actions to undertake for a more inclusive participation of women in trade, focusing on key areas where members can collaborate to make their policies more gender-responsive. 

The first conference of the cycle represented a first, impactful contribution by bringing different actors together to discuss the next steps for the implementation of the Declaration and for the achievement of its objectives. The seminar hosted four prominent speakers, namely H. E. Ambassador Harald Aspelund of Iceland, Ms. Elsbeth Akkerman of the Permanent Mission of The Netherlands, Mr. Pierre Sauvé, Senior Trade Specialist of the World Bank Group and, Dr. Arthur Appleton of Appleton Luff Law Firm. The engaged discussion was moderated by Meg Jones, Trade and Gender expert and former Chief of Economic Empowerment at UN Women.

Ambassador Harald Aspelund brought alive the Buenos Aires spirit by sharing the enthusiasm experienced with the endorsement of the declaration, which received the support of 118 WTO Members and observers. He emphasized the importance of national support to the declaration, as it provides a framework for member States to foster an inclusive trade agenda that benefits all. Furtherly, the document sets out key focus areas to help countries to make their trade and development policies more gender responsive.

With regards to the envisioned impacts that the Declaration expects to generate in the coming years, and with the active collaboration of all relevant stakeholders, Ms. Elsbeth Akkerman initiated the conversation by acknowledging that women’s empowerment is a right. She recognized women’s participation in trade as being a fundamental way to pursue these goals, and a solution to removing the existing obstacles to women’s ownership and control of economic assets. Moreover, she emphasized the need for national governments and international organizations to engage strongly in the practical application of gender in trade policy and trade agreements.

Mr. Pierre Sauvé stressed that economic growth and competitiveness require gender equality, and that in order to achieve this the World Bank applies a holistic gender policy for its 14 areas of intervention. He also highlighted the strategy used by The World Bank to achieve concrete deliverables on gender equality, which include: (i) Improving trade conditions and business environments; and, (ii) Expanding market access opportunities in specific sectors. The World Bank also places more emphasis on strengthening the productivity and competitiveness of female workers, managers and women entrepreneurs, together with helping countries design inclusive institutions of trade and policy formulation.

Finally, Dr. Appleton pointed out how essential it is for the Declaration to receive the support of national policies. In this respect, he emphasized the importance of having more WTO Members in support of the Declaration, with the aim of having a common interpretative instrument.

The session on "Linkages Between Financial Inclusion and Trade: Maximizing Benefits for Women" is the second of the 5-part high-level seminar series is schedule to take place on 22nd January, 2018 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Experts will discuss the status-quo, the steps to take in order to effect change through the adoption of a gender-sensitive analysis of trade policy, and the kinds of policies and practices that work for women engaged in trade. Along with these objectives, four key themes will be explored, namely: Financial inclusion; Public procurement; Trade facilitation; and, Data collection and analysis.

By recognising that trade and investment are fundamental drivers for inclusive and responsible economic growth as they constitute the drivers in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; UNITAR firmly believes that the continued engagement of the main stakeholders through its seminar series is essential in generating the desired impact of the Declaration as we all join hands in the global movement of gender equality.