Istanbul—Women are employed extensively in the formal and informal trade sectors of least developed countries (LDCs) and their contributions to the economic growth of their nations and to their households is significant, experts said Wednesday at an event during the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV). But women will benefit more and contribute more, if their specific needs are taken into account as governments set and implement their trade policies, officials at the panel noted.
Women’s informal trade in LDCs remains a generally under-estimated and neglected issue in trade policies and processes, said UN Women Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director Ms. Michelle Bachelet at the event titled “Making Trade Work for Women,” organized by UN Women and UNCTAD.
The main hurdles these women face, including lack of access to credit, services, transport, storage and marketing information, and their exposure to abuses, are ignored in the design of trade policies that only deal with the formal trade sector, she said. This occurs despite the fact that “formal and informal trade are closely linked, through international production networks and global value chains designed to minimize production costs.”
Economic growth and trade expansion do not necessarily lead to social development, and growth that leaves behind important segments of the population, including women, are increasingly being questioned, UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said. He stressed that several countries enjoying economic growth are suffering from social exclusion and the related problem of increasing income inequality.
“Development is valuable if it is an efficient means to happiness and human development, which includes gender equality,” panellist Khandu Wangchuk, Minister of Economic Affairs of Bhutan said.
Speakers noted that recent evidence shows that enhanced gender equality increases the level of investment in a country. It also shows that societies where income inequality and gender discrimination are lower tend to grow more quickly.
In the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, informal cross-border trade contributes around 30 to 40 percent of intra-SADC trade. Women cross-border traders contribute to employment creation, poverty reduction and regional integration, speakers said. They have been able to cushion their countries during the financial crisis and have helped to alleviate food shortages.
Vabah Gayflor, Minister of Gender Equality and Development of Liberia, noted 70 percent of women cross-border traders in her country are marketing agricultural products produced locally. Though the volumes of trade are relatively small, the resulting income is regularly reinvested and used to cover family expenses, she said.
Country by country, policy makers need to have a clear picture of the economic sectors in which women work and the challenges they face so that governments can establish well-targeted policies to help them, panellists said. They called on UNCTAD and UN Women to continue their cooperative work in the field of gender and trade.