Gender: the debate on women in the OECD and WTO

Simone de Beauvoir, Lélia González, Angela Davis, Judith Butler and many other authors, from different perspectives, have theorized about feminism and the role of women in society. Gender theories join discussions, increasing the complexity of what we understand as women, about women in society, in the labor market, in the family, and for women and their self-recognition as women.

At the same time, the women's agenda and gender equality gain space on the international stage. The UN Sustainable Development Goal nº5 of the 2015 UN Agenda 2030, Gender Equality, states that gender equality is a fundamental human right, and the basis for building a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Therefore, better living conditions for women and girls must be ensured1.

Not only within the UN framework, "women", debated under generic gender terminology, is on the agenda of international organizations such as the OECD and WTO. The question here is how these organizations address the problem.

Gender mainstreaming is the concept used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to conduct gender studies. The concept was established during the Third United Nations World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 1985, to discuss the development of strategies to ensure the effective participation and inclusion of women in the formulation and implementation of public policy programmes and projects that promote gender equality.2

One of the foundations of the Organization's Public Governance, Transversalization, enables the assessment of the gender perspective in public policies’ results for men and women.3 The topic Public Governance in the OECD is defined as the set of formal and informal arrangements that guide public decision-making and public action. The implementation of good governance implies greater transparency, participation and constant monitoring and evaluation of actions and decisions taken by states as a way to expand state credibility with the population and businesses.4

Therefore, gender mains, as the basis for public governance, allowed the Organization to understand gender-sensitive issues, which should be included and considered in all public policies in all countries, as well as to put an end to structural barriers, to the lack of visibility of the problem and to the unequal conditions of work-life balance. These analyses enable gender equality, in public life and in society, to be subject to constant critical assessments, through studies, indicators and the formation of data banks that can serve as the basis for the debate on the economic and social effects of gender inequality. In short, countries help each other by sharing experiences, at the regional and global levels, identifying good practices and evaluating specific programmes and legislation.5

Reflecting the implementation of cross-cutting in Public Governance, the OECD adopted in 2015 the Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life. Although not legally binding, there is an effective expectation and pressure from OECD members for those adopting it to meet it. Brazil and Argentina's interest in joining the OECD will give the issue the importance it deserves.

At the World Trade Organization (WTO) level, in 2017 the institution supported the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade, recognizing the importance of incorporating the gender perspective into promoting economic and inclusive growth, as well as the role of inclusive trade policies in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment, both in developed and developing countries. It recalls the commitment to implement SDG 5 on the 2030 AGENDA of the UN and the commitment to the implementation of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.6

With the Declaration, the WTO is committed to sharing: experiences and better practices on policies and programmes that are capable of encouraging women's participation in national and international economies; methods and collection of gender-disaggregated data; use of indicators; monitoring methodologies; gender and trade assessment and analysis; among others.7 An Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender was established on 23 September 2020 as the next phase of the Declaration. The WTO structure itself began to deal with the issue explicitly, with the creation of an ombudsman (ombudswoman) and objective gender equality measures in the Secretariat.

Canada presented on 21 December 2020 a Draft Work Plan for the implementation of the activities of the Taskforce established, based on the following pillars: research and data collection; promotion of workshops and webinars on best practices; implementation of the gender perspective in the work of the WTO; and gender program integration into the Aid for Trade initiative.8 In 2021, Australia shared its experiences with gender-related practices and processes; Botswana, El Salvador and Iceland presented the structure for ambitious work on trade and gender.9

On their behalf, the European Union and Iceland incorporated the issue into the review of countries' trade policies, presenting policy analyses in the Trade Policy Review on how they contribute to gender equality. The European Union argues that European trade policy contributes to gender equality and women's economic empowerment, with a focus on the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in international trade and the importance of digital trade. Iceland, for its part, notes that policies aimed at gender equality, the pay gap and the challenge of increasing the number of women on the board of directors of companies and institutions10 are important measures to address the issue.

The cross-cutting gender perspective in public policies and decision-making as the basis for Public Governance in the OECD allows us to understand the size of the issue for the Organization. This is not just guidance but a fundamental basis in order to develop a good governance, one which also comes with the creation of data banks, indicators, studies and the monitoring of states’ initiatives.

Moreover, from a public governance perspective, the WTO presents the relationship between trade and gender, emphasizing the correct inclusion and approach of trade policies that can contribute to gender equality and women's empowerment. This allows the structure of the organization to become available in order to encourage countries to meet the objective -including the exercise of trade policy controls.

What we can conclude, then, is that certainly the position on the subject in international organizations will have a direct positive impact on Mercosur's policies.


Vera Thorstensen holds a PhD and a master's degree in Business Administration, and she is the Director of the Center for Global Trade and Investment at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, being Head of the WTO Chair of Brazil.

Catherine Rebouças Mota holds a master in Constitutional Law and she is Researcher at the Center for Global Trade and Investment Studies at the School of Economics of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.



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Agenda Platform 2030. Available in: http://www.agenda2030.com.br/ods/5/

OECD. Toolkit for the integration and implementation of gender equality available at: https://www.oecd.org/gender/governance/toolkit/

WTO. Joint Declaration on Women's Trade and Economic Empowerment at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017. Available in: https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc11_e/genderdeclarationmc11_e.pdf

WTO. Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender. Draft work plan for the implementation of activities within the framework of the informal working group on trade and gender: proposal of Canada’s White Paper. INF/TGE/W/1. December 21, 2020. Available in: https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/INF/TGE/W1.pdf&Open=True

WTO. Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender. Available in: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/womenandtrade_e/iwg_trade_gender_e.htm

WTO. Trade policy review. Icelandic Trade Policy Review Report. WT/TPR/G/361. August 30, 2017. Available in: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g361_e.pdf

WTO. Trade policy review. Review report on the European Union's trade policies. WT/TPR/G/357. May 17, 2017. Available in: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g357_e.pdf#page=20


1 See at: http://www.agenda2030.com.br/ods/5/

2 See at: http://www.oecd.org/derec/afdb/48294202.pdf

3 See at: http://www.oecd.org/gov/gender-mainstreaming/

4 See at: http://www.oecd.org/investment/toolkit/policyareas/publicgovernance/41890394.pdf

5 See at: https://www.oecd.org/gender/governance/toolkit/

6 See at: https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc11_e/genderdeclarationmc11_e.pdf

7 See at: https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc11_e/genderdeclarationmc11_e.pdf

8 See at: https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/INF/TGE/W1.pdf&Open=True

9 See at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/womenandtrade_e/iwg_trade_gender_e.htm

10 See at: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/g361_e.pdf

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