Applying Gender Lens on Sustainability Standards and Certification Systems for International Trade

Women account for almost half of the total labour force in many countries, and in 2019, at least 33% of women make up the exporting workforce compared to 24% of non-exporting workforce in developing countries. International trade has created better jobs for women, where the probability of women working in the informal sector have reduced from 20% with low levels of exports to 13% with high levels of exports, providing them with opportunities for benefits, training and job security, to an extent.

However, systemic gender inequalities and the disempowerment of women persist in agricultural production across the Global South. Food insecurity; unequal access to land, productive resources and education; the gender division of unpaid care and domestic work; gender discrimination in access to decision making and empowerment; and insecure and precarious conditions of agricultural work for women are barriers to gender equality that undermine women´s contributions to economic, environmental and social sustainability in their communities. Furthermore, women entrepreneurs in developing countries tend to self-select themselves out of the credit market because of their low perceived creditworthiness such as low financial literacy, risk aversion and fear of failure, and that they are often discouraged by the societal perception that their application would automatically be denied.

Implementing Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) can provide opportunities to enhance women´s economic empowerment, improve food security and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). VSS have the potential to make significant contributions to sustainable development due to their influence on certification criteria and implementing procedures with farmers and agricultural communities. Even so, certification does not directly promote women´s rights to land, only indirectly impacts women´s land access when men have emigrated. Certification has sometimes reinforced gender asymmetries in access to production-related information and training. On the one hand, we see opportunities with respect to VSS uptake, but on the other hand, we also see imbalances when it comes to the structure of VSS implementation.

Clearly, there is a need to develop outreach programs that targets women through global awareness; and national policies that fosters gender inclusivity.

This International Women´s Day, the UNFSS joined hands with the Organization of Women in International Trade to focus on a dialogue “Applying Gender Lens on Sustainability Standards and Certification Systems for International Trade”. Together with key partners the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ISEAL, this dialogue aims to:

  • raise global awareness on the issues most women entrepreneurs and exporters in developing countries face with regards to the certification systems. Even if they can see the benefits of complying to standards, the issue they often faced with are the lacking means of financial access, capacity and institutional support
  • put forward policy recommendations on ways to better facilitate an infrastructure that eases women entrepreneurs to certify their products
  • discuss differentiated impacts of standards compliance for women in international trade, and its best practices to foster gender equality and women empowerment

UNFSS invites all to participate in this session on 8 March 2021, 2:00pm – 3:45pm (CET).

Visit to register.

The Agenda

  • Opening by Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba, Senior Economist and UNFSS Coordinator, UNCTAD
  • Setting-the-Scene by Blessing Irabor, President, Organization for Women in International Trade (OWIT) Nigeria
  • Impulse Givers:
    • Kathleen Sexsmith, Assistant Professor, Gender Expert, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
    • Dr. Hermogene Nsengimana, Secretary General, African Organization for Standardization (ARSO)
    • Elisabeth Tuerk, Director, Economic Cooperation and Trade, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
    • Noelia Garcia Nebra, Programme Manager, Gender Action, International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
    • Vidya Rangan, Senior Manager, Impacts and Evidence, ISEAL
    • Moderated by Siti Rubiah Lambert, Sustainability Expert, UNFSS Secretariat, UNCTAD
  • Intervention and Q&A
  • Concluding Remarks by Camelia Mazard, President, Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) International

The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) is a joint initiative of 5 UN Agencies (FAO, ITC, UNCTAD, UN Environment and UNIDO) that seeks to address these challenges. It is a demand-driven forum for intergovernmental actors to communicate among each other and engage with key target groups (producers, traders, consumers, standard-setters, certification-bodies, trade diplomats, relevant NGOs and researchers) to address their information needs and influence concerned stakeholders. It aims to provide impartial information, analysis, and discussions on VSS and their potential contribution to facilitate market access, strengthen public goods and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most importantly, the UNFSS focuses on potential trade or development obstacles VSS may create, with particular emphasis on their impact on SMEs and less developed countries.