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WTO Report Draws Attention To Impact Of COVID-19 Trade Disruptions On Women

Women are likely to be harder hit than men by trade disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the dangers are particularly acute in developing countries according to a new information note from the WTO Secretariat. The paper points to how governments’ policy responses could address gender-specific effects of the crisis.

Women make up a larger share of the workforce in the manufacturing sectors, such as textiles, apparel, footwear and telecommunication products, that have seen the largest falls in export growth during the first months of the pandemic, the paper notes. In the services sector, women also outnumber men in industries that have been directly affected by travel restrictions, such as tourism and business travel services.

The paper estimates the risk posed by trade disruptions on men and women using employment data from the World Bank Enterprise Surveys, monthly merchandise exports data and statistics on the mode by which a service is supplied.

The paper furthermore notes that women are disproportionately present in the informal sector in developing and least-developed countries and in activities that cannot be done remotely. It also highlights how the existing gender gap in terms of income, education, information technology skills, access to finance, and childcare responsibilities put women at a further disadvantage during the pandemic.

Maintaining open markets during the recovery period is key to building faster and more inclusive growth, the information note states, adding that this should be complemented by appropriate labour and education policies as well as legal and social reforms to support women workers, consumers and traders. The paper also points to the recently launched WTO-World Bank report "Women and Trade: The role of trade in promoting gender equality", which highlights ways to ensure women continue to benefit from trade during the economic recovery after the pandemic.

The information note can be found here.

Key Points:

  • Women are at risk of suffering more than men from the trade disruption generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the reasons for this is that a larger share of women works in sectors and types of firms that have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
  • Women make up a larger share of the workforce in the manufacturing sectors, such as textiles, apparel, footwear and telecommunication products, that experienced some of the largest falls in export growth during the first months of the pandemic. For example, female employees represent 80 per cent of the workforce in ready-made garment production in Bangladesh, in which industry orders declined by 45.8 per cent over the first quarter of 2020, and by 81 per cent in April alone.
  • A larger share of women than men works in services, such as tourism and business travel services, that have been directly affected by regional and international travel restrictions.
  • A large share of firms owned or managed by women are micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and lower levels of financial resources and limited access to public funds are placing the survival of such businesses at greater risk.
  • The economic impact of the pandemic is expected to be particularly significant for women in least-developed and developing economies because fewer women than men are employed in these economies in occupations which can be undertaken remotely, and a larger share of women is employed in sectors highly exposed to international travel restrictions.
  • The effects of the pandemic are aggravating existing vulnerabilities. Many channels through which COVID-19 is having a greater impact on women are those at the heart of gender inequalities, such as lower wages for women, fewer educational opportunities, limited access to finance, greater reliance on informal employment and social constraints. Limited access to digital technologies and lower rates of information technology (IT) skills further reduce women's opportunities for teleworking and e-commerce, and thus for adapting to the current crisis.
  • Many governments have adopted a broad range of support measures to help individuals and businesses. Some of these measures, mainly social protection initiatives adopted by some central or local governments, are specifically targeted at women.
  • Maintaining open trade during the economic recovery period is key to building faster and more inclusive growth.
  • The joint World Bank and World Trade Organization report on trade and gender, "Women and Trade: the role of trade in promoting gender equality", published in July 2020, highlights ways in which trade can continue to benefit women in the post-COVID-19 recovery period.

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