WIDE+ expert presentation at the INTA trade committee on the European Parliament on gender mainstreaming

On the occasion of the European Gender Equality Week held by the European Parliament, the Committee on International Trade (INTA) introduced in its session on 25 October 2022 the topic of trade and gender. It assessed the current state of affairs within EU trade policy and discussed which steps could be taken. Gea Meijers spoke on behalf of the WIDE+ Gender and Trade Working Group. 

Presentation INTA Committee “Gender Mainstreaming and provisions in the EU FTAs”

Gea Meijers, WIDE+, 25 October 2022 

Dear Chair, dear Parliamentarians, dear listeners, I am very honored to exchange views with you today on this important topic of gender mainstreaming in EU’s trade Policy. I am coordinator at the European feminist network WIDE+. Our European gender and trade working group brings together trade unions, different Civil society associations and academics. We are also a part of the steering group of the Global Gender Trade Coalition.

The EU aims for gender equality, as outlined its Treaty and in its gender equality strategy. In its external policies the EU is currently implementing the GAP III, in which it aims policy coherence with trade policy. The GAP3 outlines three core principles for its policy:

  • Take a gender-transformative approach.
  • Address intersectionality of gender with other forms of discrimination.
  • Follow an approach based on human rights. This includes participation in decisions concerning rights and seek redress when their rights are violated.

These are very well formulated principles and objectives that can guide EU trade policy, as it still has a major challenge to implement these objectives.  There are two main shortfalls in current EU trade policy from a gender mainstreaming perspective:

  • EU Trade policy is still often only a women add-on policy, aiming to deliver provisions to specific groups of women such as female entrepreneurs. This is not the same as aiming for gender equality, which requires assessing all intended and not-intended impacts of policy in order to reformulate policy to promote more equality between men and women. At most it is the first step to gender equality, in which many steps have to follow to come to a fully-fledged gender mainstreaming approach.
  • Gender mainstreaming requires strong accountability mechanisms throughout a policy and implementation and is not solved by a few commitments in a text. This is a common problem with mainstreaming, compared to other EU policy areas trade is lagging behind. EC should formulate its own gender equality objectives with a plan of how it sets out to achieve them in its trade policy.

Is the the model of Chile’s gender and trade chapter a good one for promoting gender mainstreaming? For this I will reflect on the proposed chapter in 2018. It holds several promises and also some pitfalls to be aware of:

  • Promising is that it would allow for an ongoing accountability mechanism through a Sub-Committee on Trade and gender in which the EU and Chile are propelled to keep engaging and monitoring gender equality aspects in the agreement. And in this mechanism the participation of stakeholders including civil society is promoted, as well as a strong but not binding dispute resolution mechanism.
  • The pitfalls are that it doesn’t clearly commit to a gender equality approach. Some language suggests it is focused to promote a women-add-on approach. And it also doesn’t commit to a gender mainstreaming approach. Simply stated it aims to promote voluntary measures around gender, without considering the positive or negative impacts of the rest of the agreement on gender equality. There is no accountability mechanism to monitor the impacts of the whole agreement and reflect on them.

An accountability mechanism is very much needed when it comes to gender mainstreaming trade policy. It is not difficult as the impacts of trade are directly felt. From our civil society partners in Chile, some major concerns for women’s rights and equality are how the negotiated trade agreement will impact their access to land, water and agricultural production.

  • Will the trade agreement protect women in small scale farming, including indigenous women’s access to traditional seeds? Or will it further promote agro-industries, such as of grapes, as an avenue for women’s employment, which in other regions of Latin and Central America, causes huge pollution and almost slavery conditions?
  • How will the trade and investment policies play out for women in rural areas where there is further potential for extractives industries such as lithium and copper. Already there is huge contamination in some areas leading to for example the ‘led children’.
  • In this context Chile might not only be an example of the first EU and gender trade chapter, but also of a country in which democratisation processes will lead to one of the most progressive constitutions that will require much more from foreign companies in their commitment to human rights and nature. Already recently a Chinese company lost its rights to extraction due to not complying with ILO conventions on proper consent 169 (pre and prior consent), after a long legal dispute with indigenous groups.