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Comment: For gender-balanced trade, elect more women into parliaments

The upcoming European Parliament elections and general elections across Europe are an opportunity for women to elect more female representatives in the pursuit of gender-balanced trade policies.

Addressing gender disparities in trade policy requires a holistic approach. This involves rectifying gender biases in import tariffs, promoting balanced trade policies that do not favor specific industries based on gendered workforce divisions, and facilitating women’s entrepreneurship through policy support.

Increased female representation in legislative bodies plays a crucial role in crafting gender-sensitive policies that level the playing field for women entrepreneurs and promote overall economic inclusivity.

Women as customers: gendered import tariffs

Studies have shown that import tariffs are often higher, with women’s products being taxed more than men’s at the border.

A recent American Political Science Review analysis compared nearly 200,000 paired tariff rates on men’s and women’s apparel products in 167 countries.

The results show that women’s and men’s apparel products are taxed at different levels nearly 40% of the time, and that women’s items are, on average, taxed 0.7% more than identical products aimed at men.

However, in democracies, the presence of women in legislative bodies is associated with lower import taxes on women’s goods.

Women as workers: wage and industry protection disparities

Gender-based disparities in the workforce lead to wage inequalities mediated by international trade.

A recent study on the interlinkages between political representation, trade, and the gender pay gap based on data from across 60 countries highlights that industries with more male workers experience higher levels of protectionism. “Men earn more in part due to protectionist wage premia”, the study shows. However, gendered protectionism decreases with women’s increase of their share of legislative seats.

The historic underrepresentation of women in many governments around the world has thus contributed to the global gender wage gap.

Females present in political spheres can advocate for fair trade policies, promoting a more balanced approach to trade policy.

Women as entrepreneurs: empowering economic growth

Despite challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s entrepreneurship in upper–middle-income countries witnessed a rise in both by 4% and 11%, respectively, between 2019 and 2021. However, gender gaps in entrepreneurship persist.

This is due to unequal access to resources, capital, and markets. Another recent study analysing the interlinkages between female political empowerment, the rule of law, and women’s entry into entrepreneurship uncovered a compelling link between women’s entry into entrepreneurship and women’s political empowerment. It also shows that higher levels of women’s political influence had a more pronounced impact in countries with stronger rule of law.

This finding was derived from an analysis of data spanning 53 countries, demonstrating that the proportion of seats held by women in parliament and the rule of law index significantly and positively influenced female participation in the private sector. A composite score reflecting women’s political empowerment and a country’s adherence to the rule of law collectively explained 12% of the variance in women’s rates of entrepreneurial entry.

Increased female representation in legislative bodies leads to the promotion of policies that support women entrepreneurs by improving access to funding, offering comprehensive training programs and establishing essential networks for business growth.

It also supports the development of gender-sensitive economic policies that address the multifaceted challenges women face, such as work-family conflicts, insufficient resources, limited access to financing and adequate regulatory protections.

Women in leadership roles actively advocate for these policies, empowering female entrepreneurs and enhancing their participation in the economy.

Empowering women, transforming trade

The relationship between women’s empowerment and economic development is two-fold: economic growth can reduce gender inequality, and empowering women can boost development. However, it’s important to note that these factors don’t offer universal fixes. 

Continuous policy commitment to equality for its own sake is needed to bring about equality between men and women.

Relatedly, studies have also shown a positive and substantial correlation between female participation in parliament and general economic advancement. Specifically, a 10% rise in women’s representation in parliament corresponds to a notable 0.74% increase in GDP growth, as evidenced by a comprehensive study conducted across 48 countries in Europe and Central Asia.

The road to gender parity

It is a significant achievement that women are now represented in parliament across every country. But progress remains slow. The global share of women in parliamentary offices remains at 26.5% and the pace of increase is very low. At this pace, it would take another 80 years to reach gender parity in parliaments worldwide.

So, how can we accelerate progress in women’s political representation and enhance gender inclusiveness in trade policy?

As upcoming EU parliament elections and general elections across Europe approach, consider taking a step back and support the election of more women representatives.

By electing more women, we can play a vital role in shaping a more equitable future.

Engaging in discussions about trade and women’s political participation is essential to drive positive change and ensure your voice is heard both at the ballot box and beyond.


Mayra Souza is member of the board of the Brussels branch of the Organization of Women in International Trade

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