Integrating Gender in U.S. Trade Policy is the Smart Thing to Do

Publication year


Publication Author

Mary Borrowman and Aria Grabowski

Though there has been an increase in acknowledgement of the importance of gender in trade, in most cases gender is not integrated in trade policy or agreements, or if it is, the commitments are not binding. When trade and gender equitable outcomes are seen as separate goals, rather than using trade as a tool to foster gender equality and sustainable and inclusive development, not only is it a missed opportunity for growth but it can perpetuate inequalities.

By contrast, the United States’ (U.S.) trade policy has the ability to support gender equality, spur economic growth and create positive returns for U.S. trade. Closing gender equality gaps results in immense economic gains. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has explicitly acknowledged the “key role” women play in economic development and the positive “snowball effect” economically empowering women has on development. Trade policy is also an opportunity to promote women’s rights and labor force participation; this requires effective regulation of trade so that barriers and impacts can be accounted for.

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Key Recommendations:

To ensure inclusive economic growth, gender needs to be systematically integrated into U.S. trade policy and agreements. The Biden-Harris administration should work with Congress, where authorization needs to be updated or additional appropriations are needed, to establish a U.S. trade policy that no longer ignores half of the global population. The United States should start with the following actions:

  1. Integrate Gender Throughout U.S. Trade Policy and Multilateral Agreements: All trade agencies should conduct gender analysis and/or gendered impact assessments for all trade policies, including trade agreements and preference programs. Trade policies should have gender-sensitive designs, implementation, evaluation and accountability mechanisms. The U.S. should encourage and support similar efforts in multilateral spaces and, as a first step, endorse the Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.
  2. Appoint Gender Experts as Trade Personnel: The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) should name an Assistant Deputy USTR on Women’s Rights to lead efforts on integrating gender equality into trade, including working with women and civil society as part of the decision-making process. USTR and other agencies should invest in staffing, monitoring, enforcement and capacity building for gender equality, both within USTR and in countries to ensure that resources and technical understanding positively support trade efforts and equitably include women.
  3. Lead the World with Binding Commitments to Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: USTR should incorporate binding commitments on gender including women’s rights, equal protection under the law, and non discrimination in future trade agreements and trade preference programs. Provisions should be consistent with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions on nondiscrimination and violence and harassment.
  4. Unlock Growth and Opportunity by Addressing Gendered Barriers: USTR should work with relevant agencies, including development agencies, on programs to address the barriers women face in benefiting from and participating in trade. This should include reforms that reduce trade costs for smaller enterprises, bridge the digital divide, diversify global supply chains to include more women- and minority-owned businesses, and promote and support responsible business conduct within global value chains.
  5. Improve Data Collection: Collect sex-disaggregated statistics on the impacts of trade, with an intersectional lens where possible, in order to properly assess impacts and make informed policy. Include more indicators, especially those related to gender and the environment, in assessing the success of trade policies, rather than a narrow set
    of economic indicators.