Free Trade Needs Free Women

Article excerpt

Kuli Mungombe owns and operates a fishing rig with nine other women in Zimbabwe. The group entered the m male-dominated industry last year after being provided with the boat, equipment and training, and have doubled their sales. These women join millions of empowered women around the world who are powering trade and inclusive economic growth, and reducing in equality and poverty.

'I used to sell fish under the trees and carry fish on my head,' says Mungombe. 'I would wake up at 4 a.m. to walk a long distance to buy fish from the fishermen. Now I sleep and wake up normal hours, and have my tea before the captain comes. I never thought I would have time to sleep, eat, work and rest like this!'

Advancing women's economic empowerment is a priority for UN Women. It is the right thing to do from both a human rights and an economic perspective. The World Bank's 2012 World Development Report and 2012 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, find that reducing the male-female employment gap has been an important driver of economic growth and that greater progress is needed to reduce persistent gender inequalities and discrimination, and to empower women.

For the Tonga fisherwomen in Zimbabwe, local support came through the Zubo Basilizwi Trust, a development organization that secured the fishing rig for the women traders in Siachilaba, supported by UN Women. The women are now working to organize into collectives, improve their market stands and conditions in Siachilaba, and market their fish to Zimbabwe's larger towns and cities.

'I grew up knowing that any meaningful business was a preserve for men, not for us women,' says rig operator Sarudzai Mumpande. 'We have since overcome those challenges because we have organized ourselves into a serious business entity.' The women have also worked out a scheme for sharing their income so that it benefits other women. From their earnings, 50% will go to the female rig operators; 30% into a basket-weaving fund for women in the area; and 20% will be given to the Zubo Basilizwi Trust to expand the revolving fund for women in other areas While many challenges still remain, the women are starting to believe and accept that they are champions of their own destinies. 'Although I grew up here, I had never been to the harbour. I had no idea what it felt like to sail on the river,' says rig operator Violet Mwinde. 'I sold fish for years, but could not afford to eat the fish I sold. Now, our children come to visit during the holidays and have fish. My life has changed significantly.'

Between 1983 and 2008, 553 million women joined the global labour force, global trade grew 85% faster than GDP, and exports from developing countries grew 14% annually, according to the 2012 World Development Report. Expanding women's empowerment through education, employment, skills and entrepreneurship is paying off and is widely recognized as an essential part of the solution to today's economic and social challenges. There is mounting evidence from the World Bank, United Nations, OECD and others showing that increasing gender equality contributes to increased growth, productivity and competitiveness. Societies can draw on a more complete range of global talent and skills to strengthen their recovery from the global crisis. Innovation requires new and unique ideas and the best ideas flourish in a diverse environment.

While the gender gap in labour force participation has narrowed significantly, gender gaps in wages, opportunities, access to resources, education and career fields, and unpaid domestic work have only narrowed marginally. Men still make more money than women for the same jobs. Women continue to be under-represented in management and leadership positions and women continue to face discrimination in access to land, property, inheritance, finance and other productive as sets. …