Let’s protect Pakistan’s women-intensive industries with gender-sensitive trade policy reforms

As countries reach agreements with other countries to liberalize trade, they also need to ensure that more open trade flows do not hurt the livelihoods of women.

Trade policies affect women and men differently because they occupy different positions in the economic value chain.

In developing counties, women tend to work in unregistered small and medium enterprises and in undocumented cross-border trade, agricultural and industrial labour, services and care sectors. Because much of the impact women have on the country’s trade is unaccounted for, their concerns are often not considered when trade policies are made.

In export-oriented markets, industries need to be technologically upgraded. Since many women do not have skills, resources and capital, they remain in the lower tiers of the economy and are badly hurt by more open international competition. For instance, the influx into Pakistan of machine-made apparel replicas from China is hurting the domestic hand-woven apparel enterprises, which are mostly owned by women. Policy reforms are needed to shift from these unregulated import-oriented markets into export-oriented markets in which women-owned industries are protected.

Because of advocacy by women, for the first time trade policy in Pakistan is being analysed through a gender lens and the Ministry of Commerce has been consulting female entrepreneurs on formulating the Strategic Trade Policy Pakistan 2018-2023.

I submitted a proposal to the Ministry to protect the women-owned commercial heritage of Pakistan through Global Indication Codes. In recent years, international designers have used Pakistan’s indigenous crafts in their fashion lines without giving us any credit. My proposal aimed to protect and promote women-owned indigenous crafts like Kashmiri and Swati shawls, Ajrak and Multani embroidered apparel. I advocated for regulating imports of machine-made replica apparel from China and India, and for equipping the indigenous craft’s enterprises with modern technologies to enable them to export their goods. I proposed that the authorities evaluate the impact of trade policies on women-owned industries. The Ministry intends to include some of these proposals in the new Strategic Trade Policy.

This progress did not happen overnight. Almost 100 men and women from chambers of commerce, trade associations, the media, think tanks and academia participated in a year of extensive trainings on Women Leadership in Trade Policy sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Pakistan Regional Economic Integration Activity. They studied the trade policies of Pakistan and other countries and learned how seemingly neutral policies can hurt women’s economic advancement. The project also made Government trade departments more aware of the issue. The Prime Minister’s recent selection of an all-men Economic Advisory Council sparked debate for the same reason. After women advocated for an inclusive board, one woman was added to it.

The Government should collect data on women-intensive industries in order to gauge how trade policies affect them, and it should evaluate free trade agreements through a gender lens. It should give people incentives to procure from women-owned enterprises and offer these enterprises access to land and credit and tax reductions. We should encourage people to access open resources like United Nations Asia and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology for Development and the International Trade Centre’s online courses for policymakers.

We should also organize more training on inclusive policies for the various stakeholders, engage them in policy consultation, implementation and evaluation, and build domestic and international networks through which best practices can be shared.

Note: This article was originally published on Saturday, 10 November 2018 at http://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/in-focus/youth-voice/mahwish-afridi