Where trade was once considered a gender-neutral activity, it is now understood to have gendered impacts. The 2017 Buenos Aires Declaration identifies improved data collection as a way to fix that.
“We need data disaggregated by sex so we know how different policies impact men differently than women,” Teh says.
According to the OECD, policymakers should collect data for indicators such as the ratio of women’s to men’s income in comparable trade-based economic sectors or value chains, the percentage of women in higher-paid positions across sectors or value-chain segments, the ratio of women and men enrolled in trade-specific capacity-building training programs, and the number of procurement contracts awarded as a result of the increased certification of women-owned businesses.22
A data-centric approach has worked to measure and close other kinds of gender gaps, according to the WEF. Since 2006, for example, the report has measured the ratio of males to females enrolled in secondary education. Disseminating that data led to 184 countries adopting a monitoring framework to ensure inclusion, and education became one of the two main gender gaps the WEF considers almost completely closed.23
Conclusions across countries about how trade policy impacts women can be difficult, however, because countries collect that data in different ways, according to UNCTAD. One way to address this would be greater harmonization in the ways governments conduct surveys and other data-gathering exercises, to make data easier to compare across countries.24
Disaggregating data by gender has also improved the private sector’s understanding of how women experience their goods and services. For the automotive industry, gender-specific data on vehicle crashes has helped to reveal that women are 47% more likely to suffer injury and 17% more likely to die because the crash-test dummies used in safety assessments mimic the bodies of men only instead of both genders. In financial services, data have shown that women are more likely to seek a new investment advisor when their spouse dies because advisors have worked in the past to develop a relationship with the husband only.25
Although governments are the logical starting point for improving the data available to policymakers, they can’t do it alone – particularly in bigger countries, where relevant agencies may not have the resources to collect statistically significant data samples, especially in remote regions.
International organizations also play a role in data gathering and analysis. In recent years, several organizations have studied digital-commerce platforms and how their impact differs on male and female entrepreneurs, with mixed results. In Indonesia, a United Nations study found that 54% of women-owned microbusinesses use the internet to sell their products, compared with 39% of those that are men-owned. Using survey data from the Indonesian government, the study found that about 40% of micro and small businesses led by women used digital platforms to expand their businesses, compared with about 10% less for those led by men.26 However, in the Philippines, the Asian Development Bank found that women are more likely to use platforms, but that men who use digital platforms in similar ways are more likely to earn more.27
Another solution to address the data gap, while showing where the structural barriers to trade for women persist, is the SheTrades Outlook developed by the International Trade Center. This evidenced-based policy tool helps to identify policies, laws or programs that contribute or prevent women's participation in the economy and trade. The SheTrades Outlook covers 55 indicators grouped under six interlinked pillars. It also has a repository of over 100 good practices on women’s economic empowerment around the world.
It's early in the quest to understand the lasting impacts of digital platforms, just as it’s too soon to gauge the effectiveness of gender provisions in FTAs. The hunt for data will continue. “If you want gender-sensitive data, you need to ask gender-sensitive questions,” Teh warns.
This makes statistics collection similar to FTAs, representation in senior government roles and barriers to access. To improve gender-neutral outcomes, all stakeholders involved need to create opportunities for women to participate, lead and influence the process.