This study explores the present status of gender mainstreaming in trade policies in selected Eastern and Southern African regional blocks and countries. It discusses the potential implications of gender mainstreaming for trade in these regions, and provides suggestions on how national and regional entities can ensure trade works better gender equality. Such recommendations can provide policymakers with ways forward in their efforts to mainstream gender in national policy-making, regional integration and the WTO.
Trade has an important role in growth and development. Trade policies affect men and women differently due to several factors including prevailing societal gender inequalities in terms of access to and control of economic and social resources, decision-making ability and gendered division of labour. Yet trade policies and agreements are often assumed to be gender neutral and fail to recognise the gender dimension. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), the global body for regulation of trade related activities, is often blamed for being “gender blind”. Until the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11), when almost three-fourth of the nations has endorsed a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment (JDTWEE), seeking women’s economic empowerment by expeditiously removing barriers to their participation in trade. Although several countries and organisations have already showed their reservations concerning the JDTWEE and the ulterior motive for the inclusion of gender issues in WTO agenda, JDTWEE is nevertheless a welcome first step towards bringing gender equality in trade, hence supporting overall socioeconomic development through trade.
The paper explores the present status of gender mainstreaming in trade policies of prominent regional blocks (COMESA, EAC and SADC) and four country policies (Malawi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Kenya) from Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as discuss the potential implications of gender mainstreaming for trade in these regions. Further, through analysing the current state of play, the paper comes up with specific suggestions to prepare national and regional entities to reduce the negative impacts of trade liberalisation on women and use trade as a mean to achieve gender equality. The recommendations will also provide the policymakers with some way forward in relation to gender mainstreaming in their regional integration programmes and participate in trade and gender activities in their respective countries, regional blocks as well as WTO, as and when required.