UN report calls on countries to consider gender impact of trade policies

11 May 2011

Policies aimed at expanding trade in Bhutan and promoting the Asian country’s unique goal of maximizing “gross national happiness” should be linked to strategies for educating women and enhancing their positions in society and in the economy, a new United Nations report says.

Policies aimed at expanding trade in Bhutan and promoting the Asian country’s unique goal of maximizing “gross national happiness” should be linked to strategies for educating women and enhancing their positions in society and in the economy, a new United Nations report says.

The study – entitled Who is benefiting from trade liberalization in Bhutan? A gender perspective – by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is one of a series analysing the gender effects of trade in developing countries, particularly those classified as least developed countries (LDCs).

The study will form the basis for discussion at an event today entitled “Making trade work for women in LDCs,” being held on the sidelines of the Fourth UN Conference on the LDCs in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference aims to devise a new strategy to help the world’s poorest countries unlock their economic potential and accelerate development.

Bhutan has embarked on a development strategy aimed at maximizing gross national happiness – a distinctive concept that combines material well-being with more intangible elements of cultural, spiritual and emotional well-being.

UNCTAD notes in the study that any process to spur development by linking the country more thoroughly with the global economy will not be acceptable if it leaves large segments of the population behind and if it is disassociated from traditional values and assets.

UNCTAD has stressed in recent years that economic growth and increased trade have limited positive effects on people’s overall well-being if such progress is accompanied by rising income inequality, social inequality and the marginalization of vulnerable groups, including women.

Since 65.4 per cent of Bhutan’s workforce – and 72.1 per cent of its female workforce – is employed in farming, special attention should be paid to the effects of trade in this part of the economy, the study says.

The study recommends that Bhutan should preserve some capacity for domestic production, especially that of staple foods. It says that food security, trade liberalization and agricultural modernization should be pursued harmoniously, with strategies to meet two compelling needs: keeping prices of agriculture and food products affordable – especially for poor households – and ensuring domestic productive capacity.

Other UNCTAD studies focusing on the gender effects of trade will cover Lesotho, Rwanda, Angola, Cape Verde and Uruguay.

The Istanbul conference also hosted the launch this week of a policy paper calling for heightened cooperation to help developing countries, especially LDCs, improve the breadth and capacities of their economies.

The launch was followed by the signing of a Swiss-funded mechanism to support such cooperation. This mechanism will be used for the first time to enable the Laos to expand tourism and to link that process to related sectors of its economy, including organic agriculture and handicrafts.

 

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