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Gender, Poverty and Trade

By Nilufer Cagatay | United Nations Development Program | October 1, 2001

Executive Summary

This paper focuses on the relationship of trade, on the one hand, with gender and poverty, on the other, within the context of the human development paradigm. Specifically, it examines the impact of trade liberalization on gender inequalities (primarily via employment, wages and the care economy); and the impact of gender inequality on trade performance. These interactions are discussed in light of mainstream literature on trade, growth and poverty reduction, which defines poverty in terms of income or consumption and largely ignores gender.

The paper also considers the policy implications of a gender-aware approach to international trade analysis and the current world trade regime. The principal conclusions that emerge from this analysis are: that men and women are affected differently by trade policies and performance, owing to their different locations and command over resources within the economy; that gender-based inequalities impact differently on trade policy outcomes, depending on the type of economy and sector, with the result that trade liberalization policies may not yield expected results; that gender analysis is essential to the formulation of trade policies that enhance rather than hinder gender equality and human development.

The system of rules and agreements that currently governs international trade is based on the widely accepted view that expanding global trade is beneficial to all countries and their citizens. This derives from mainstream trade theory, which holds that production specialization according to each nation’s comparative advantage typically leads to a more efficient allocation of resources in the world economy and consequently to higher levels of output and growth in all countries. Growth in turn will promote national development and reduce poverty. Despite the recognition that trade liberalization creates both winners and losers within each country, it is held that there are net gains overall, allowing losers to be compensated through trade adjustment assistance or changes in taxation policies.

Debates on the multilateral trade system are occurring at a time when development itself is being reconceptualized. Measures of development based on market criteria (income or consumption) are being replaced by those based on human well-being, particularly of those often left out–poor people, racial and other minorities and women. This paper argues that trade must be similarly re-evaluated—going beyond the social impact of trade, based on growth and market access, to look at social content, that is, the social relations across and within nations (class, gender, race, etc.) that form the context in which trade policies are enacted.

Copyright 2001 United Nations Development Programme To obtain permission for the use or further distribution of this paper, please contact the UNDP.

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