AS I SEE THINGS: Trade and people’s empowerment
THE ECONOMICS LITERATURE teaches that trade is good for growth and development because it ultimately lowers poverty and provides a wider spectrum of goods and services available for consumption in the local economy. But, specifically, how influential are trade policies to people’s economic empowerment, particularly the women in our societies?
In deciding on trade policies which are instrumental to people’s economic empowerment, particularly our women, one needs first to assess a number of critical issues including, the state of women in the economy; the economic areas or sectors employing the most women; the level of technology utilised in these areas; which jobs are in practice assigned to most or even all of the women; the magnitude of the value-added in these areas; ownership of businesses; the culture of paying women less than men even for doing identical work; whether women receive adequate, paid maternity leave, given that they are the bearers, not men, of the nation’s children; and the adequacy of child care facilities to facilitate women being able to resume work after having their children (nurseries, kindergartens, among others).
Additional factors to be examined include, but are not limited to, such things as the industries in which most women work (are they unionised?); equality for women in relation to access to credit to start and expand businesses as the men in the society; the award of contracts by governments for the provision of goods and services to or on behalf of the government (is there, in practice, equality of treatment of men and women in the award of contracts?); educational and skill levels, especially among the poorest citizens; and access to certain jobs (are the bulldozers, backhoes, graders, and all the entire gamut of heavy equipment – paying those who drive them far more than others doing manual labour in the construction sector – are such jobs virtually the preserve of men?
And what about masonry, tiling, carpentry, plumbing, electrical wiring, industrial mechanics, motor mechanics – all decent paying jobs, certainly as compared to unskilled labour employment – are these occupations overwhelmingly occupied by men to the near total exclusion of women?), must also be examined.
At the macroeconomic level, we must bear in mind that in devising trade policies which facilitate female economic empowerment, policymakers have to pay attention to both the export and import substitution dimensions of production in all sectors of the economy and to both the trade in goods and services, for exports, and with regard to possible import substitution in services also, not only with respect to goods. Indeed, the preceding paragraphs highlight some of the key questions which have to be addressed in order to find ways to utilise trade policies as tools for women’s economic empowerment, including equality of opportunity and treatment with men.
Given the significance that can easily be placed on several, if not all, of the factors to be considered, serious efforts must be made if our policymakers are interested at all in using trade as a means of empowering people and women in particular.
After all, the benefits of free trade to economic growth and development are still very much under intense debates in the literature. It is high time those discussions be extended to include the role that trade policies can play in the economic empowerment of our people, particularly our women.