International Women’s Day

WTO Director-General Okonjo-Iweala’s statement on International Women’s Day, a broader read on gender equality; U.S., EU and New Zealand actions and statements

In my post yesterday, I pulled some information from a short video put together by the WTO, UNCTAD and ITC that dealt with the issue of priorities for the three organizations in terms of recovering from the pandemic. I also reviewed some actions President Biden was taking in the United States. See March 8, 2011, March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director,  heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/08/march-8-2021-international-womens-day-statements-of-un-women-executive-director-heads-of-wto-unctad-and-international-trade-centre-and-u-s-executive-orders-and-statement-by-president-biden/.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Yesterday the WTO hosted a virtual event entitled “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” Director-General Okonjo-Iweala gave an opening statement which chronicles both the disproportionate harm women have encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic but also some of the actions some governments are taking to address the challenges facing women. See WTO, International Women’s Day: Focus on women for a stronger recovery, March 8, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/women_08mar21_e.htm. While the two priorities of the Director-General (DG) reviewed in yesterday’s post are also present in her statement at yesterday’s event (equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; eliminating or phasing out export restraints), there is a lot more ground covered in the statement. The women and trade agenda at the WTO is relatively limited at the present time. Having a woman as Director-General can lead to changes in the organization and structure of the Secretariat — which is identified as a topic DG Okonjo-Iweala will be addressing — and can help ensure that women are at the table for all negotiations so that trade policy and negotiations include an understanding of the implications for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. DG Okonjo-Iweala reviews the reasons women have been disproportionately affected — including being overrepresented in sectors heavily impacted by the pandemic (textile and apparel manufacturing, tourism), being heavily concentrated in the informal economy of countries with limited or no safety net if jobs are lost, for entrepreneurs, being in small businesses with limited financial resources making surviving a pandemic more challenging, shouldering heavy loads at home in terms of child care, and facing great health care risks because of the concentration in medical and essential services jobs, The text of DG Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, which ls linked to the press release is copied below. See Speeches — DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 2021 WTO International Women’s Day: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World”, March 8, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno2_e.htm.

“Ladies and gentlemen,

“Today is my first International Woman’s Day as the WTO Director-General. Given the particular challenges the pandemic has brought to women globally, I wish to focus my opening remarks today on what the WTO can do to help address these challenges. But I am keenly aware that achieving gender equality is also one of the top priorities for the Secretariat itself, and we will find an occasion soon to have a focused discussion on gender issues for the Secretariat.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequalities of every kind. Between countries with money to spend on vaccines and economic relief, and those that cannot. Between workers who must risk their health every day, and those who can safely work from home. Between big firms and small businesses.

“But perhaps no divide has deepened more than that between men and women.

“In both paid and unpaid work, women bore the brunt of the pandemic’s social and economic impact.

“Globally, 5% of women lost jobs in 2020.  The employment loss of men was 3.8%. Women have also been much more likely than men to drop out of the labour market and become inactive.

“In low-income countries without the means to offer economic support during lockdowns, many women lost their only source of income. As family incomes fell, many girls stayed home when schools reopened, or went to work.

“Why has the recession caused by the pandemic had such a disproportionate impact on women?

“First, women are overrepresented in sectors that have been more negatively affected than others.

“This includes jobs requiring in-person contact, such as food service and retail — sectors that either shut down or became much riskier. Women also account for a large share of workers in services such as tourism — sectors directly affected by travel restrictions.

“Women also outnumber men in the manufacturing sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as textiles and apparel, where factories shut down early in the pandemic in response to plummeting export demand. In Bangladesh, for example, female employees represent 80 per cent of the workforce in ready-made garment production. Industry orders declined by 45.8 per cent over the first quarter of 2020 — by 81 per cent in April 2020 alone.

Second, more women work in informal sectors than men. Women make up 58% of employment in informal sectors, and the numbers are higher in developing and least-developed economies. In Africa, for example, almost 90% of employed women work in the informal sector.​ These women workers are hurt the most because they are likely to have lost their only source of income and been left with no social and legal protection. 

“Third, many women entrepreneurs own or manage small businesses that already struggle with limited financial resources and borrowing capacity. The pandemic worsened these pressures.

“And within families, women continue to shoulder a heavier burden than men. Temporary school closures made fathers step up a little, but mothers stepped up much more. Working mothers changed work schedules, reduced hours or took unpaid leave far more frequently than working fathers. In Germany, 6% of fathers but 62% of mothers indicate they have taken on the primary responsibility for their children during school closures.

“Finally, women face greater health risks as they work more in areas such as health and social care, sales of food and other necessary goods. In many countries, women comprise over 75% of the healthcare workforce. In certain countries (Italy, Spain, and the US), a higher proportion of women healthcare workers (69%, 75.5%, and 73% respectively) were found infected with COVID-19: although work is still ongoing to understand the reasons for this, one possible reason is that personal protection equipment has been designed to fit for men and even the smallest size is too big for some women.

“Even before COVID-19, progress towards gender parity had been too slow, too uneven. Now, unless we act quickly, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women could last for decades. This would be a moral failure — and an economic disaster.

“The biggest thing the WTO can do right now is to work with Members to keep trade open.

“As the economic data shows, trade has proven crucial in the global fight against the pandemic.

“While too many export restrictions remain in place, trade helped improve access to key medical products over the past year. In the first half of 2020, while global trade contracted by 14% compared to the year before, total imports of personal protective equipment and other COVID-related products rose by 29%. The value of trade in textile face masks grew six-fold. PPE trade grew by 50%. Trade thus enhanced supply resilience, particularly for those countries without manufacturing capacity.

“The pandemic has also highlighted how the temporary movement of healthcare workers, of whom many are women, has particularly helped the most affected countries to deal with the crisis. Open trade will continue to be key to building faster and more inclusive growth.

“Second, WTO Members must minimize or remove existing export restrictions that are impeding access to essential medical supplies and disrupting supply chains. Transparency on any export trade restrictions should also be improved through prompt notifications.

“In all these efforts, our priority should be to contribute to making vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics available and affordable in all countries. Until we have successfully tackled health challenges for everyone, we cannot tackle economic ones.

“Third, trade can be a source of more and better jobs, and increased purchasing power for women. Overall, countries that are more open to trade, as measured by the ratio of trade to gross domestic product, have higher levels of gender equality.

“For one, women are more likely to be in formal jobs if they work in trade-integrated sectors with higher levels of exports, thereby giving them opportunities for benefits, training, and job security. A recent World Bank survey shows that, for women, the probability of being informal declines from 20% in sectors with low levels of exports to 13% in sectors with high levels of exports. 

“Digital technologies can also help women overcome gender-based barriers to trade, reach broader markets, and weather the impact of crises better. Women facemasks producers in Kenya, for example, found ways to develop and even expand their businesses during lockdowns using growing e-commerce opportunities. Rwandan women coffee producers were able to export their products directly to China. Let’s close the existing gender digital divide and help all women benefit from the opportunities created by digital technologies.

“Finally, all these efforts must be supported by targeted support measures for women.

“Women could be left behind in the recovery unless adequate measures are put in place to address the uneven impact of the pandemic on them. Let me give you one example of how targeted intervention can make a difference: in Zambia, the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) helped women-owned businesses selling textiles, leather, and honey to attend trade fairs and other B2B activities. The result: they were able to break into 10 new international markets, and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new sales. They also expanded their supplier networks, and many of those new suppliers were also run by women.

“Governments need to prioritize women in the labour force and in the home through financial, legal, and educational measures. Fiscal support for women will be particularly crucial. Yet currently less than 40 per cent of all measures taken globally for the recovery are gender sensitive, with only 7 per cent containing measures supporting women’s economic security.

“This is a crude reminder for all of us that women must be at all decision-making tables equally as men. As Dame Graça Machel once said, “…socio-economic transformation will only be realized once we aggressively address gender-specific challenges, prioritize gender equality and women’s participation, and firmly entrench women in leadership positions at all levels in society.”

“The cost of gender inequality is enormous. A few years ago McKinsey estimated that if women played a fully equal role to men in the labour market, global economic output could increase by as much as $28 trillion per year. To put it in perspective, this pandemic reduced global output last year by between $3 and 4 trillion.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is setting women back in all domains of society.

“At the same time, it has reminded everyone of the enormous value of care and other kinds of work traditionally associated with women. And it has highlighted the power and effectiveness of women’s leadership. Although no analytical study has been conducted yet, anecdotal examples show that economies led by woman leaders (e.g. New Zealand, Denmark, Chinese Taipei, Iceland, Finland, and Norway) have outperformed their peers in terms of management of this pandemic.

“We cannot expect to make good policy for all members of society if half of the population is not properly and equally represented at the table.

“Gender equality is a fundamental human rights issue and also an economic empowerment issue. We should all work harder in our respective roles to achieve complete gender equality.

“I wish you all a happy International Women’s Day!”

Additional actions by President Biden

In yesterday’s post, I also reviewed actions President Biden was taking in the form of two Executive Orders (one Executive Order on Establishment of the White House Gender Policy Council, a second Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity). But President Biden on March 8th reviewed additional actions he has taken including nominating two women to hold command positions in the U.S. Military and putting forward to Congress the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021. See Statement by President Biden on the Introduction of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 and Remarks by President Biden on International Women’s Day (“On Friday, I submitted to the Senate for confirmation my first slate of nominations for four-star command positions in our Armed Forces — among them, two outstanding and eminently qualified warriors and patriots.  General Jacqueline Van Ovost in the United States Air Force is currently the only female four-star officer serving in our military.  I nominated her as Commander of the United States Transportation Command.  And when confirmed, the Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, of the United States Army, will be promoted in rank and join General Van Ovost as the only four-star — as another four-star general.  I nominated her as Commander in the United States Southern Command.  And, when confirmed, they will become the second and third women in the history of the United States Armed Forces to lead combatant commands.”). The Biden Administration also had a press briefing with the two co-chairs of the Gender Policy Council. See Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Co-Chair of the Gender Policy Council and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Julissa Reynoso, and Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Gender Policy Council Jennifer Klein, March 8, 2021. And Vice President Kamala Harris reported participated in a discussion with an EU Parliamentary Committee. See eudebates.tv, We are all in this together! Jacinda Ardern on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, https://www.eudebates.tv/debates/world-debates/australia/we-are-all-in-this-together-jacinda-ardern-on-international-womens-day/ (“.During the plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand joined MEPs to celebrate the International Women’s Day during a debate. Prime Minister Jacinda was one of a number of high-profile guests, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, to address the European Union Parliament for International Women’s Day.”)..

So the Biden Administration has been taking actions to bring women into positions of power in a unprecedented manner in the United States and to embark on reviews to ensure problems to achieving gender equality are identified and addressed.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

The EU has had relatively strong programs promoting gender equality over time. Like the United States, the EU is looking to do more. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a statement yesterday at the EP FEMM Interparliamentary Committee meeting reviewing the important contributions of women to the development of COVID-19 vaccines and the actions the EU will be taking to improve gender equality. Like President Biden’s cabinet, EC President von der Leyen has much greater balance in the Commission composition in terms gender representation. See Opening speech by President von der Leyen at the EP FEMM Interparliamentary Committee meeting, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2021, March 8, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_1017. Her speech is copied below.

“Thank you very much Evelyn Regner,

“Presidents and Honourable Members,

“It is an honour to be with you today, in the company of so many amazing women. And allow me to begin by mentioning three women who are not with us today. Doctor Özlem Türeci. Professor Sarah Gilbert. Doctor Kizzmekia Corbett. Some of you may have never heard their names before. But we owe them a lot. They are three scientists from Germany, the UK and the U.S. And these three extraordinary women lead the teams that developed the first three vaccines against coronavirus. BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

“And I am sure that they, like many of us, have fought against all sorts of stereotypes. But this is how women respond to stereotypes: By going their way, showing leadership and excelling in their field. And today the whole world can see that we are all better off when women get the opportunities they deserve. Of course, women are made for science. Of course, women are fit to lead. Of course, career and motherhood can go together. It is obvious, but unfortunately it still needs to be said.

“This year’s International Women’s Day is for women like these three scientists. This Women’s Day is for women on the front-line, and for women in the back-office. It is for the health workers, who have been our guardian angels, and it is for our sales assistants, who have kept our supermarkets open. And indeed, let us never forget that almost 80% of them are women.

“Women’s Day is also for all the mothers who have taken care of their children during the lockdowns, while also working from home. But this Women’s Day is also for the women who lost their job during the crisis. And Women’s Day is for those who no longer want to settle for discriminations, insecurity and unfairness. As a female leader, I would like 2021 to bring good news to all of them, to all European women. And this is what we are working on: Putting women at the centre of all our policies.

“And let me start with the basics. Later this year we will propose new legislation to fight violence against women. This has become even more urgent because of the lockdowns. Living free from fear and violence is a basic human right. And we must ensure adequate protection for all women, in all European countries, online and offline, and especially at home.

“Second, women must be at the centre of the recovery. This is a clear requirement for all national recovery plans. NextGenerationEU will finance good jobs for women and men alike. It will invest in quality education for girls and women, including scientific education. NextGenerationEU will be for all Europeans, women and men.

“Third, today indeed we are presenting our new Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. We have set ambitious targets on jobs, skills, and poverty reduction. These are clear and measurable goals to drive our work.

“And let me take one of them: By 2030, at least 78% of European adults should be employed. And this can only be achieved by having more women in the labour market. But to do this we need to make progress on work-life balance. Ensuring parental leave for mothers and fathers. Investing in childcare and good schools. And indeed creating a child guarantee, so that all parents, from all social backgrounds, can send their kids to childcare and school. And this is what empowerment means. Freedom to be a mother and to have a career, for all women.

“And this adds up to the fourth point, today we are also proposing a Directive for pay transparency. It builds on a very simple idea: Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.

“And finally, women should always be able to reach for the top, including in private companies. I fought for this when I was a Minister in Germany. And I will not stop pushing for gender quotas on boards until we get a fair system for all European countries. We simply cannot exclude half of our talents from leadership positions.

“Having women in leadership position should become the norm, not the exception. And slowly but steadily, Europe is changing. Five EU governments are now led by women. For the first time, an EU country, Estonia, is led by two women, as President and Prime Minister. And you, President Sakellaropoulou, are the first woman to be elected as Greek President.

“For the first time in our history, not only the European Commission is led by a woman, but we have also achieved gender-balance in the College of Commissioners. As you know, this is something I promised on my nomination. I asked every European country to present a man and a woman as candidates for each post. It was not always easy. But we made it. And it shows that everything can change, with tireless perseverance.

“All of this matters. It matters to the quality of our decision-making. And it matters to our daughters. It tells them that they can reach for the top. It tells them that hard work pays off. That they will be judged on their ideas, their dedication and their talent, not for their chromosomes. A gender-balanced Europe is a better Europe. Not just for women, but for all of us.

“And in this spirit: Long live Europe, and happy Women’s Day!”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden also spoke to the European Parliament yesterday. Her speech can be found here. eudebates.tv, We are all in this together! Jacinda Ardern on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, https://www.eudebates.tv/debates/world-debates/australia/we-are-all-in-this-together-jacinda-ardern-on-international-womens-day/. New Zealand has done a lot to promote gender equality and has leadership in government that is roughly in number equal between women and men. But challenges remain as the Prime Minister notes in her speech including women being “overrepresented in job loss and low paid work and domestic violence statistics.” The Prime Minister’s speech is copied below (headers are from the webpage).

“Jacinda Ardern European Parliament speech on International Women’s Day 

“I’m honoured to see this kind invitation to speak with you and I bring warm greetings from New Zealand. President Sassoli, thank you for convening this session and for the focus on women’s empowerment and leadership during the covid crisis. To say this is a challenging time would be, of course, a monumental understatement. The world is reeling from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic.

“It has had far reaching consequences that have affected every one of us. This is a critical time for us as leaders and representatives to come together, even if it is by video in these constrained times. Covid-19 highlights how truly interdependent we all are, how reliant we are on cooperation, communication and compassion to successfully combat the virus.

“Jacinda Ardern puts people at the centre

“It highlights how important it is that we work together for a sustainable recovery that delivers for our economies and our planet. But it also puts people at the centre of our decision making. In New Zealand our approach in battling covid-19 has been one of inclusivity. The idea that everyone needs to do their bit to protect one another, especially our most vulnerable.

“I want to talk about our population as the team of five million, and we may be a small team, but one that nonetheless has proven the power and importance of the collective. And now that’s exactly what we need from the world. It’s a haunting legacy if the virus drags on around the globe. It has become clear no country is safe until every country is safe. As we move to a phase of vaccination we are not a team of five million, but we are a team of seven point eight billion

“The success of individual countries or regions means little unless we are all successful. In New Zealand‘s indigenous language Te Reo Maori, we say “we are all in this together”. But some have felt the effects of covid-19 even more acutely than others. Covid-19 has ravaged our health systems, our economies, our livelihoods. But it is also exacerbated structural inequalities that disproportionately impact women and girls.

“Women are at the forefront

“Women are at the forefront of fighting the covid crisis. Amongst the doctors, nurses, scientists, communicators, caregivers and frontline and essential workers who face the devastations and challenges of this virus every day. Along with being directly affected by the virus itself and its immediate impacts on our livelihoods, we’re also the subjects of intensified domestic violence.

“Now this is being reported as the shadow pandemic in all corners of the world. Not only by fully and meaningfully including women and girls in leadership and decision making at all levels can we ensure that our responses to the pandemic meet the needs of everyone. As prime minister of a small country on the far side of the world, I’m proud of what our team of five million in New Zealand has been able to achieve over the last year.

“We have a proud history of championing gender rights since we became the first country in the world to give all women the right to vote in 1893. I’m part of the most diverse and inclusive parliament New Zealanders have ever elected, with women making up forty eight per cent of our parliament and fifty five per cent of my party in government.

“Women hold top positions

“Women also hold the post of Governor-General, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Chief Justice, and increasingly holding senior roles in our public service and business sector. And now, for the first time and long overdue, I might add, New Zealand‘s Minister of Foreign Affairs is a woman. She is a skilled, values driven indigenous woman with a contemporary worldview.

“And yet for all of that, we have so much more to do because it doesn’t matter how many women are in leadership, so long as we have women overrepresented in job loss and low paid work and domestic violence statistics. In my mind, that is the true measure of whether we have made progress and whether we have equality.

“As we look towards the year ahead we all know it will be tough. There will be big challenges and demands made of all of us as leaders. We will be tested. We must all do more to support women lead business, including small enterprises, to be part of the covid-19 economic recovery so they can more readily experience the benefits of trade.

“The European Union and New Zealand. We are Like-Minded Partners with so many values and interests in common, we both desire the stability and freedom afforded us all by global rules and institutions, free and open markets and a world where human rights are valued and prioritised.

“As we all turn towards creating a sustainable global economic recovery, my message to you is simple. We need to stick together because we are all in this together. I wish your Parliament and all our people the very best for the challenges that lie ahead. Stay safe. Stay well.”

Conclusion

Gender equality is an issue that needs a permanent place on agendas of organizations and governments to ensure progress is made for half the world’s people. Progress has been too slow in too much of the world and discrimination or unequal treatment can be found in various forms in nearly all countries. It is unimaginable that the world has not progressed more. We can and must do better.

March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director, heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden

Today is International Women’s Day. With the pandemic still occupying center stage in global affairs, the UN effort on its Sustainable Development Goal 5 to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is in trouble. Women have been disproportionately adversely affected by the pandemic, tens millions leaving the workforce to take care of children, tens of millions losing jobs and having no safety net. Various reports have reviewed the disparities and the loss of progress towards achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. See, e.g., UN Women, From Insights To Action, Gender Equality in the Wake of COVID-19 (September 2020); (“The pandemic has widened gender and economic inequalities.” “COVID-19 is exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems. It is forcing a shift in priorities and funding across public and private sectors, with far-reaching effects on the well-being of women and girls. Action must be taken now to stop this backsliding.”); UN Women, SPOTLIGHT ON GENDER, COVID-19 AND THE SDGS, WILL THE PANDEMIC DERAIL HARD-WON PROGRESS ON GENDER EQUALITY?, https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/spotlight-on-gender-covid-19-and-the-sdgs-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5013.

It is against this backdrop that statements and actions today on the importance of Women to the achievement of sustainable development goals should be seen. Below are materials from the UN Women’s Executive Director, the heads of the three Geneva organizations with a trade mission or function that are headed by women, and the announced actions today by President Biden in the United States.

UN Women Executive Director Statement

The following statement was made today by the UN Women Executive Director. See International Women’s Day Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, on International Women’s Day 2021, Change up the pace: women at the table, March 8, 2021, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/3/statement-ed-phumzile-international-womens-day-2021. The statement is copied below in its entirety.

“International Women’s Day this year comes at a difficult time for the world and for gender equality, but at a perfect moment to fight for transformative action and to salute women and young people for their relentless drive for gender equality and human rights. Our focus is on women’s leadership and on ramping up representation in all the areas where decisions are made – currently mainly by men – about the issues that affect women’s lives. The universal and catastrophic lack of representation of women’s interests has gone on too long.

“As we address the extraordinary hardship that COVID-19 has brought to millions of women and girls and their communities, we also look ahead to the solid opportunities of the Generation Equality Forum and Action Coalitions to bring change.

“During the pandemic, we have seen increased violence against women and girls and lost learning for girls as school drop-out rates, care responsibilities and child marriages rise. We are seeing tens of millions more women plunge into extreme poverty, as they lose their jobs at a higher rate than men, and pay the price for a lack of digital access and skills. These and many other problems cannot be left to men alone to solve. Yet, while there are notable exceptions, in most countries there is simply not the critical mass of women in decision-making and leadership positions to ensure that these issues are tabled and dealt with effectively and this has affected the pace of change for women overall.

“There are breakthroughs to celebrate, where women have taken the helm of organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank and we look forward to more such appointments that help to change the picture of what a leader looks like. Yet this is not the norm. In2020, as a global average, women were 4.4 per cent of CEOs, occupied just 16.9 per cent of board seats, made up only 25 per cent of national parliamentarians, and just 13 per cent of peace negotiators. Only 22 countries currently have a woman as Head of State or Government and 119 have never experienced this – something that has important consequences for the aspirations of girls growing up. On the current trajectory, we won’t see gender parity in the highest office before 2150.

“This can and must change. What is needed is the political will to actively and intentionally support women’s representation. Leaders can set and meet parity targets, including through appointments for all executive positions at all levels of government, as has occurred in the few countries with gender equal cabinets. Special measures can work; where countries have put in place and enforced quotas, they have made real progress on women’s leadership, as have those that have policies to address representation. Where these measures do not exist, progress is slower or even nonexistent and easily reversed.

“No country prospers without the engagement of women. We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.

‘This is the vision of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals and the vision of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is the vision of civil society and multitudes of young people who are already leading the way and of all those who will join us in the Generation Equality Action Coalitions. We need bold decisive action across the world to bring women into the heart of the decision-making spaces in large numbers and as full partners, so that we can make immediate progress on a greener, equitable and inclusive world.”

Video of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the WTO, Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant of UNCTAD, and Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton of the International Trade Centre

For International Women’s Day, the three heads of multilateral organizations in Geneva involved in trade put out a video entitled, International Women’s Day — Leading global trade: Three women, three organizations. The note accompanying the video states “For the first time, all three major global trade organizations have women leaders: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the WTO, Isabelle Durant at UNCTAD and Pamela Coke-Hamilton at ITC. On International Women’s Day, they talk about the importance of looking at trade through a gender lens, and how trade can help tackle the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news_e.htm.

Top priorities to boost recovery outlined by the three leaders include the following. For Director-General Okonjo-Iweala, her first priority to boost economic recovery, is the health aspect. “It is absolutely a top priority for me that we should look at how to make equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics happen. It is unconscionable that any countries or peoples should be waiting for any of these medical products. And we know that until we tackle the health challenges, we will not be able to really get a handle on the economic challenges and return to a sustainable growth path that would spell recovery from the pandemic. So that’s a really important priority. Second is what can trade do to boost the economic recovery? How can we liberalize trade in certain sectors to make sure that supply chains stay open and work and that countries can produce more and sell more? So what can trade contribute to that? It’s a priority for me that export restrictions and prohibitions that have been put by countries during this time of the pandemic be dropped or minimized or phased out very quickly so that we can have a freer flow of goods and intermediate inputs. So those are two top priorities that I think we need to focus on to boost economic recovery.”

For Acting Secretary-General Durant, her first priority is “to ensure that our institutions contribute to making trade a real tool for recovery, especially for those countries, groups and sectors that have paid a high price due to the pandemic. My priority is that everything we provide them in terms of analysis, data, technical and intergovernmental support helps them steer their recovery towards more inclusive and greener sectors and strategies. Climate change is indeed the greatest threat to current and future generations. Countries need urgently to start planning and implementing actions to adapt their production and trade to the ruthless effects of climate change: what does this imply for better production methods; new comparative advantages; investments; diversification of their economies; and regional integration and value chains? I have the same concern for fairness in the digital revolution. How can developing countries derive the greatest benefit for their development, and become players in it, when digital technology has become the driving force of the economy? COVID has shown the importance of digital infrastructure, policies and skills. More than ever, we need the cooperation, expertise and experience of all to build the road to recovery, because we all know that countries we are far from being equal when it comes to these issues.” (English translation from French as provided in the video).

For Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton, her first priorities are “empowerment and equality — empowerment by building resiliency for MSMEs through partnership; empowerment for recovery by moving towards greener trade. ITC is starting a new initiative to support MSMEs and green trade, helping MSMEs adopt more sustainable practices, pursue opportunities in the circular economy and participate in greener supply chains. Empowerment through digital inclusion by promoting greater integration of MSMEs in digital economies and facilitate digital access for all. Empowerment of women and youths. A dedicated program at ITC will lead the way to women’s economic empowerment, and we will continue to work with governments to build an eco-system of new and innovative jobs for youths. And secondly, equality. Ultimately we want to make sure that no one is left behind as we seek paths for recovery, and build resilience against future shocks. COVID-19 has loaid bare the depths of inequality still prevailing from the global economic system. We must choose to challenge the status quo, and as women we will.”

Action by President Biden

President Biden provided a statement on International Women’s Day and issued two Executive Orders. See Statement by President Biden on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/08/statement-by-president-biden-on-international-womens-day/; Executive Order on Establishment of the White House Gender Policy Council, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/08/executive-order-on-establishment-of-the-white-house-gender-policy-council/; Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/08/executive-order-on-guaranteeing-an-educational-environment-free-from-discrimination-on-the-basis-of-sex-including-sexual-orientation-or-gender-identity/; Fact Sheet: President Biden to Sign Executive Orders Establishing the White House Gender Policy Council and Ensuring Education Free from Sexual Violence, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/08/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-sign-executive-orders-establishing-the-white-house-gender-policy-council-and-ensuring-education-free-from-sexual-violence/. The President’s statement is copied below as is the fact sheet on the two Executive Orders.

“Women’s history is American history — and world history. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and progress of women and girls in the United States and around the globe.
 
“My Administration is committed to honoring women by investing in their opportunity, security, and wellbeing. I was proud to issue an Executive Order today establishing the White House Gender Policy Council, to ensure that every domestic and foreign policy we pursue rests on a foundation of dignity and equity for women. My Administration is also committed to ensuring that women are represented equally at all levels of the federal government. That starts with Vice President Harris, who broke through a barrier that stood for more than two centuries. And it includes a record number of diverse women whom I’ve nominated to serve in Cabinet-level roles and appointed to senior-level positions.
 
“In our nation, as in all nations, women have fought for justice, shattered barriers, built and sustained economies, carried communities through times of crisis, and served with dignity and resolve. Too often, they have done so while being denied the freedom, full participation, and equal opportunity all women are due. Their contributions have been downplayed. Their stories have been neglected. That is why International Women’s Day is also a time for us to recommit ourselves to the cause of equity and equality for women the world over, and to shine a light on the systemic obstacles that fuel gender disparities and undermine women’s potential.
 
“Despite persistent obstacles, women are leading every day. Over the past year, women have played a critical, often outsized role in responding to the global coronavirus pandemic. They are our vaccine researchers and public health officials. They are our doctors and nurses. They are our essential workers — so many of whom are women of color — in fire stations and nursing homes, on farms and in grocery stores, in schools and in shelters.
 
“Around the world, we are seeing decades of women’s economic gains erased by this pandemic. It’s forcing millions more girls out of school, which could impact economic growth for decades to come. Incidents of violence against women in their homes and communities have spiked. And, as is so often the case, COVID-19 is hitting the poorest and most marginalized women the hardest. These global trends damage all of us, because we know that governments, economies, and communities are stronger when they include the full participation of women — no country can recover from this pandemic if it leaves half of its population behind.
 
“Elevating the status of women and girls globally is the right thing to do — it is a matter of justice, fairness, and decency, and it will lead to a better, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all.  On International Women’s Day, let us recommit to the principle that our nation, and the world, is at its best when the possibilities for all of our women and girls are limitless.”

Fact Sheet

Biden-Harris Administration establishes a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world

“The full participation of all people – including women and girls – across all aspects of our society is essential to the economic well-being, health, and security of our nation and of the world. This is a matter of human rights, justice and fairness. It is also critically important to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth, increasing access to education, improving health outcomes, advancing political stability, and fostering democracy.

“Today, President Biden will sign two Executive Orders. The first establishes the White House Gender Policy Council to ensure that the Biden-Harris Administration advances gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls. The second directs the Department of Education (ED) to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies for consistency with the Administration’s policy to guarantee education free from sexual violence.

“A year into COVID-19, women are still contending with the public health crisis, an ensuing economic crisis, and on top of those challenges, a caregiving crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated barriers that have held back women, especially women of color, forcing many to leave the workforce, manage virtual schooling, and absorb additional caregiving responsibilities. Many women are also on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19 – as essential workers keeping our economy, communities and families going. As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic and reckons with the scourge of systemic racism, President Biden knows that we need a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world, restoring America as a champion for gender equity and equality.

“Today’s actions will:

“Establish the Gender Policy Council. The first Executive Order formally establishes the Gender Policy Council within the Executive Office of the President, with a role in both domestic and foreign policy development. The Council will work in coordination with the existing policy councils to advance gender equity and equality, including by:

“Combatting systemic bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment;

“Increasing economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers to women’s participation in the labor force, decreasing wage and wealth gaps, and addressing the caregiving needs of American families and supporting care workers, predominantly low-paid women of color;

“Ensuring access to comprehensive health care and preventing and responding to gender-based violence;

“Promoting equity and opportunity in education and leadership; and

“Advancing gender equality globally through diplomacy, development, trade, and defense, and by recognizing the needs and roles of women and girls in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, democratic rights-respecting governance, global health and humanitarian crises and development assistance.

“The White House Gender Policy Council will be an essential part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to ensure we build a more equal and just society – by aggressively protecting the rights and unique needs of those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including individuals who are Black, Latina, Native, Asian American and Pacific Islander, people with disabilities, and LGBTQI+.

“The Executive Order requires the Co-Chairs of the Council to submit to the President a Government-wide strategy to address gender in policies, programs and budgets, and an annual report to measure progress on implementing the strategy. To prevent and respond to gender-based violence, wherever it occurs, there will be a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor on Gender-Based Violence on the Council staff. The Executive Order also requires engagement with non-profit and community-based organizations, state and local government officials, Tribal Nations, foreign government officials and multilateral organizations.

Ensure education free from sexual violence. President Biden will sign an Executive Order that will direct the Department of Education (ED) to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies to ensure consistency with the Biden-Harris Administration’s policy that students be guaranteed education free from sexual violence. It also directs ED to specifically evaluate the Title IX regulation issued under the previous administration and agency action taken pursuant to that regulation, to determine whether the regulation and agency action are consistent with the policies of the Biden-Harris Administration.”

Conclusion

The WTO at its 2017 Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires saw a joint declaration on women and trade released. There are currently 127 WTO Members who support the declaration. There was an interim report released in 2019 and an informal working group on trade and gender working on a voluntary basis to share information and best practices in ways to increase women’s role in global trade. Such activities are a start for the WTO, but much more could be done if there was greater support by the Members. The 2020-21 selection of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was an important action and will likely presage change at the Secretariat. Her priorities as reviewed in today’s video address trade issues that are important to economic recovery which may facilitate greater movement towards gender equality.

The challenges women face globally during the pandemic are significantly greater than those faced by men both in terms of lost employment, withdrawal from the workforce to deal with child care and much more. The UN Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls is important for many reasons. In trade, gender equality will promote growth and innovation. This is true in all societies regardless of level of economic development.

The pandemic has pushed back progress in economic development for much of the world as has been often reported and has slowed or reversed the drive for gender equality and empowerment of half the world’s population.. More focus and efforts are needed to ensure achieving the UN SDG 5 by 2030. Trade is but one aspect of the challenge.

Today’s speeches by the three leaders of multilateral organizations handling trade show some of the broader issues facing global trade to recover from the pandemic and highlight the capabilities of women leading important organizations. The UN Women’s Executive Director highlighted the deep societal challenges that continue to retard gender equality in fact in many parts of the world.

Finally, the actions by President Biden and his Administration are the types of actions needed by countries who have not achieved gender equality to date. More can and must be done by nations around the world. International Women’s Day is a reminder of the enormous global opportunities that exist if gender equality and empowerment of women and girls is achieved.