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Why it’s important to “Think Equal” when it comes to trade facilitation

Gender equality can not only spur country competitiveness, but taking this aspect into account in trade related interventions can help obtain better outcomes. Often times, however, it can be difficult for practitioners to understand how to apply gender into their trade work.

There is indeed a gap between the literature and the type of trade interventions that are becoming increasingly important in the World Bank portfolio. The majority of the literature has focused on the relationship between gender equality as outcome and trade liberalization policies (measured usually by tariffs or openness to trade). While this type of liberalization and the exposure to the global environment is still a key area for support, there is onlya very limited literature that looks at the new trade interventions that are rapidly expanding: trade facilitation issues and more broadly trade competitiveness interventions that touch several dimensions not strictly linked to tariffs. Projects are an ideal place for generating this evidence, such as the diagnostic studies that identify the best set of interventions or via the impact evaluation analysis of the interventions.

This is why World Bank’s trade and gender departments in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management network are collaborating to   produce guidance notes that help people working in the field to identify and assess the gender dimensions of trade projects, particularly trade facilitation, trade policy, and trade competitiveness projects).

The first note relates to the issue of gender equality in trade facilitation and logistics projects. The guidance note, prepared by Kate Higgins, from the North-South Institute, discusses why gender matters for trade facilitation, gives examples of projects that integrated the gender dimension and their outcomes and provides practical advices and templates on how the gender dimensions can be integrated into these type projects.

For example, a team of World Bank economists found the quality of customs-border ar­rangements confronting small traders has attracted much less attention than has customs-border management for larger and formal traders. However, in examining cross-border trade between DRC and neighbors, the team found the majority of these traders small-scale women entrepreneurs were subject to requests for bribes, to physical abuse, and to harassment at country borders. This has lead the team to focus on the women’s needs, and a project is currently  trying to  improve the quality of life of these small scale traders, who would like to expand their business and whose contribution to the economy is far from negligible.

Some of the key advices emerging from the guidance note are valid for many types of projects (such as the use of gender disaggregated data). Others are more specific to trade facilitation projects such as the establishment of mechanisms to support the cooperation amongst female traders to pool their goods and access logistics services at lower prices. In this respect, the guidance note provides suggestions for integrating the gender dimensions into these projects without cumbersome and/or resource-intensive changes to the typical trade facilitation projects.

We hope that the note will give the opportunity to “think equal” also in trade facilitation interventions. Perhaps, in a few years from now we will have a large literature to draw upon for ensuring that both men and women fully benefit from trade facilitation interventions.