Empowering Women is Smart Economics and Pathway Towards the SDGs

Improving gender equality has many positive impacts on individuals and also on society at large. Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When more women work, economies grow!

Empowering women to become full economic citizens has grown importance in the work of the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS). The underlying point of reference as Mr. Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba, Senior Economist andUNFSS Coordinator, UNCTAD prescribed as a starting point is, there needs to be clearer evidence as to how trade tools such as Voluntary Sustainability Standards can contribute to Women´s Economic Empowerment and demands profound research in this area.

To mark the International Women ́s Day, the UNFSS, together with International Gender Champions, organized a discussion to foster Women´s Economic Empowerment, especially in the agricultural sector in developing countries, via leveraging Voluntary Sustainability Standards. 

During the webinar, Ms. Niematallah E.A. Elamin, Economist at UNCTAD, delivered an introductory presentation on the forthcoming publication “Exploring the role of Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) for Women´s Economic Empowerment on the agriculture sector in developing countries”. She elaborated that the study aimed to understand the links between VSS and WEE.

“We need to make sure that VSS governance systems have more women. That would help incorporate their needs and have a greater impact” – Dr. Mercedes Araoz Fernandez, Former Vice-President of Peru and Co-Chair of the UNFSS Academic Advisory Council

Ms. Fernandez highlighted that the study comes at a crucial point and provides an excellent summary of the extant literature on the subject. She mentioned that the study’s research can aid policymakers in understanding how VSS can be leveraged to combat multiple challenges faced by women in the agriculture sector.

“It is clear that governments and other regulatory bodies, including the standard-setting bodies, need to play a critical role in building capacity of local firms to meet and maintain the requirements set forth by VSS” – H.E. Ambassador Chad Blackman, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Barbados to the United Nations in Geneva.

Speakers at the event.
Listen to the recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d74YIql_r0

Ambassador Chad Blackman also emphasized on the gender data gaps and under-reporting of women’s situation in agriculture; increasing access to export markets and addressing costs associated with getting certified with VSS; and the need for technical assistance and capacity building. Continuing the discussion, Dr. Amrita Bahri, Associate Professor of International Trade Law at ITAM and Co-Chair Professor for WTO Chair Program (Mexico) presented the reasoning for how trade agreements can empower women during this discussion. She highlighted that about only 20% of all trade agreements explicitly mention gender equality.

On the point of trade and its role in empowering women, Ms. Kezy Mukiri, Executive Director at Ignite Trade Africa, also reinstated the point in the report, that trade and VSS are among key enablers for both gender equality and sustainable development. The dialogue was furthered by Ms. Suhasini Singh, FairWear India Country Manager. Ms. Singh highlighted that through regular monitoring of the supply chain and checking on the systems at the brand level, better employment conditions for women can be ensured.

The discussions from the webinar stressed that the compilation of evidence and data presented in the upcoming UNCTAD report proves the many gaps identified in the agriculture sector in developing countries that discriminates against women often leads to a missed economic opportunity. In this context, VSS have been identified as a potential tool to achieve gender equality and women empowerment. Despite the fact that there will still remain challenges that will block many aspects to progress this agenda, UNFSS is determined to explore all possibilities to assist its beneficiary countries to meet this goal.

For more insights, listen to the recording of the webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d74YIql_r0

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.