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ECLAC highlights the importance of a sectorial, contextualized and data-based analysis to promote women’s economic autonomy international trade

24 November 2021|Briefing note

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) participates in the Training Program on Women and Trade in the Americas, organized by the Program of Chairs of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in particular, the Chairs of the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus (Barbados), the University of Chile, and the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM).

In Latin America and the Caribbean, only 1 out of 10 women is employed in export sectors sectors. This proportion is twice as high in the subregion of Central America and Mexico, where export-oriented manufacturing specialization is more employment-intensive, particularly for women: 2 out of 10 women are employed in export sectors. To this panorama of inequality has been compounded by the sectoral impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In Latin America and the Caribbean, one of the most affected sectors was tourism (in which 61.5% of employed persons are women), with a drop of -63.8% in 2020. However, also during the crisis, the food, beverage and tobacco sector (which represents 15% of women employed in the export sector), grew by 2.3% in 2020.

This evidence was presented by Nicole Bidegain Ponte, Social Affairs Officer Division for Gender Affairs of ECLAC, during the conference “Women's economic autonomy and international trade: evidence from Latin America and the Caribbean”, which also included the participation of Roberta Piermartini, Head of Trade Cost Analysis at the WTO. This presentation, held on November 23, 2021, is part of the session "Numbers: Where are (or where are not) the women?"

To contextualize her presentation, and from a sectoral approach, Bidegain Ponte emphasized the importance of services for employment in exports sectors in South America and Central America and the Dominican Republic. Services represent 25.5% of export employment of women in South America and 35.5% in Central America and the Dominican Republic.

These data, added the Social Affairs Officer, indicate that ECLAC produces evidence on how the region's productive and trade specialization intersects with gender segregation in the labor markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. As an example, it is highlighted that, in South America, the trade specialization patter is intensive on natural resources generate few jobs, mainly for women. Moreover, in addition to this structural challenge, the COVID-19 crisis strongly affected Latin America and the Caribbean: in 2020 the GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean fell -6.8%, exports of goods fell -10% and imports of goods, -16%.

Despite this panorama, Bidegain Ponte presented proposals for a transformative recovery with gender equality, such as promoting digital inclusion and moving towards a society of care. In addition, she highlighted that it is necessary to take into account the trends that are occurring in Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, such as the increase in the primarization process and poverty and inequality in the region, for which she recommended diversifying the production and export structure, seeking to boost knowledge-intensive sectors that generate more quality employment for women.

She also highlighted the importance of promoting greater job creation, as well as a greater participation of women in jobs in sectors such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals and vehicles, given that these are dynamic sectors of the economy, that is to say, they can promote a transition to a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

In closing her presentation, she stressed that it is key to promote a productive recovery with full economic participation of women in regional and international trade, and that it is also necessary to invest in the care economy as a strategic sector and enabler for women’s autonomy. Finally, she mentioned ECLAC initiatives aimed at strengthening data and analysis on gender and trade, such as technical assistance activities with Chile and Uruguay for the implementation of the commitments established in the gender chapter of the Free Trade Agreement and technical assistance to El Salvador for the generation of gender and trade statistics.


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