Standards are the gatekeepers to participation in international trade, and in this role can replicate – or challenge – gender discrimination in countries around the world.
While there is preliminary evidence that Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT) can be particularly challenging for women who own small businesses or who work towards compliance, relatively little is known about the standards-gender interface. On the one hand, the adoption of standards can transform value chains in a way that excludes women workers, but on the other it can spur ongoing changes to competitiveness that could increase the returns to women-led businesses. Technical assistance can and has worked with women who are key actors in improving quality for standards compliance, thereby promoting gender equity under Sustainable Development Goal 5 as well as inclusive economic transformation more broadly. Discussions have also inquired into the role and importance of the participation of women in standard setting. Trade policy-making at the WTO SPS and TBT committee can consider gender in the design of new measures, as well as their implementation, to ensure the measures attain their safety and technical objectives along with their sustainable development potential.
This session explored opportunities to design and implement standards that support gender equity. Discussions explored the differentiated impact of standards on women and men, capacity building activities, women’s participation in standard setting, and opportunities in the SPS and TBT committees, and in technical assistance, to design and implement standards in a gender-sensitive way.
• Standards can have gender-specific impacts because women producers lack the skills, resources and scale to comply and since standards may be designed for male end-users of products;
• Women’s limited participation in standard-setting, and the lack of comments relating to gender in the WTO SPS and TBT committees, reflects the fact that gender inequality is deeply rooted in societies around the world;
• There are opportunities for standard-setting bodies to be part of the solution to gender-based discrimination, including by helping firms, governments, and multilateral organizations measure gender and mandate activities to consider gender impacts;
• While more research into the gendered impacts of standards is welcome, the time is ripe for gender champions to lead the mainstreaming of gender considerations in SPS and TBT policymaking, including by building on best practice in other forums and issue-areas.