Gender, Trade and the role of ICTs in economic growth

Speaking at the on-going forum on "Information Communication Technologies
(ICT), Trade and Economic Growth" at the United Nations Conference Center
in Addis Ababa In Ethiopia, Ngone Diop from the African Center for
Gender and Development (ACGD) said that trade was not gender neutral.
She observed that trade agreements, policies and mechanisms have
different impacts on women and men.

"Gender refers to socially constructed differences in attributes and
opportunities associated with being female or male and to the social
interactions and relationships between women and men. It determines what
is expected, allowed and valued in woman and man in a given context."
said Diop.

She added that trade and ICTs can be a critical pathway to
socio-economic growth and development in Africa but without a gender
perspective, the potential benefits of ICTs and trade will not be experienced by
women and girls.

Rather, gender inequalities and the socio-economic
exclusion of women and other vulnerable groups will be perpetuated, ultimately hampering
Africa's development prospects.

ICTs can play a critical role in mitigating women's marginalisation in
trade, which is a male-dominated sector in Africa, noted Diop.

She pointed out that many empirical studies have documented
gender and women's concerns around trade in Africa. Diane Elson states, "the seemingly neutral macro-economic
policies including trade become male-biased when implemented in a social
context that discriminates against women."

Diop explained that the structure of the social power relationships
between men and women shape their access to and command over resources
including: education, land, financial resources, market, information and
technology, all of which being essential for women and men's effective
participation in and benefit from national, regional and international

She said that gender and trade could be analysed in three categories
such as the micro level where the gender imbalances at the household
level in terms of bargaining power, division of labor (burden of unpaid
care work), access to and control over resources, etc affect women's
effective participation in trade.

The second category was meso level where promotion of export-oriented
production in Africa (export processing zone - EPZs) as a response to
globalisation was associated with a gender segmentation of the labour force.

Diop observed that women are over represented in low-paid, low skills
export-oriented sectors such as horticultural and floricultural sectors
and in fisheries. They work in unhealthy conditions. They face
employment insecurity, lack of protection, gender stereotypes and sexual

She said that a study in Kenya suggests that women workers in the
horticultural and floricultural sectors experience harsh working
conditions while living in secluded compounds far from their own villages.

While women's share in low paid work increases, their reproductive
tasks/unpaid care work does not decrease, as there is no change in the
division of labor in the household.

Diop explained that in the third category or macro level, trade
negotiations are men's monopoly; women's voices remain absent in the
various trade negotiations and agreements. Trade reforms advantage large
and medium producers who have access to and command of information,
markets, capital, and resources. Those producers are mainly men


She said reduction in tariffs and other forms of trade taxes associated
with World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations lead to: reduction of
government spending on social services; commodification of social
services (health, education) and shift of the costs the public to the
private sphere (the home), leads to increase women's invisible and
unpaid burden of care work.

The critical role of ICTs

Diop explained ICTs are a tool for a socio-economic transformation. They
can positively change the ways the socio-economic actors produce,
consume, and exchange the ways they think and act. She explained that
development was about positive structural changes so; ICTs are strongly
related to development.

As such, ICTs constitute a powerful device to mitigate the gender
imbalances that constraint woman from effectively participating in and
benefiting from trade. It is a powerful tool for women's socio-economic empowerment


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