Promoting gender equality

Eliminating inequality between men and women in employment

As of 2017, gender equality is  the fifth of seventeen sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. Several tools, including social clauses in trade agreements, may help achieve this goal. Elimination of gender-based discrimination in employment and equality in pay for women and men, are considered as the « guiding principles that parties are committed to promote ». Therefore, gender issues are increasingly being incorporated into the texts of trade agreements, often within the framework of labour cooperation.


Gender pay gap

Studies show that although the labour force participation rates are likely to increase with globalization for both men and women, the wage gap between them remains strong. Companies in a globalized economy want to diminish costs and limit their expenses by paying lower salaries to women than to men for doing the same work.


Ways to promote equality between women and men

  • Promoting gender equality in parallel agreements and / or in labour chapters. Incorporating gender equality principles into these mechanisms will foster greater involvement of civil society in the adoption and implementation of such agreements, particularly unions. In addition to the existing rights, a clause specifically mentioning the parties’ commitment to gender equality could be added to the text of the agreements. Non-compliance with the commitments could be submitted to dispute settlement mechanisms.
  • Increasing the scope of assessment mechanisms as well as monitoring and technical assistance programmes to reduce inequalities between men and women in the workplace. Some agreements integrate gender considerations into their capacity-building mechanisms: Canada identifies «gender-related» issues as areas for cooperation. For its part, the cooperation and capacity-building mechanism of the US Department of State and the Palestinian Authority sets out gender equality, including the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, as a priority for cooperation and capacity-building. 

Arguments in favour

  • The principle of gender equality is universal and any tool allowing  for its advancement is timely.
  • The inclusion of social clauses in free trade agreements and negotiations could contribute to changing the partners countries’ practices.
  • Promoting gender equality would prevent the slow-down in development, economic growth and poverty reduction,  caused by inequality and gender-based division of labour.
  • Gender equality provisions in trade agreements prevent social dumping.

Arguments against

  • Social clauses in trade agreements have no significant impact on gender equality.
  • The adoption of gender equality principle in FTAs curtails developing states’ competitive advantages.
  • Unemployment rates in many developing countries are higher among women than in men. Imposing trade restrictions and sanctions would only increase the gap.
  • Perceived as an obstacle to trade, the principle of gender equality would prevent countries from closing the industrial gap.

What they said:

«The North American economy can out-compete any region in the world. Our partnership has also contributed to improved respect for labour and human rights, environmental protection and gender and minority equality. Canada is committed to ensuring that the North American Free Trade Agreement remains the foundation of our future prosperity.»

Minister of International Trade, François-Phillipe Champagne, On an official visit to Mexico. «Press release», 17 March 2017



«As we pursue social justice and cohesion at home, we should also seek to promote our values, including social and environmental standards and cultural diversity, around the world.»

European Commission. «A competitive Europe in a globalized economy. A contribution to the EU’s Growth and Jobs Strategy», 4 October 2006



«The WTO is moving towards gender equality, and we will continue to do so. I am confident that we will get there.»

Roberto Azevedo, Director General of the WTO. «Towards gender equality in the WTO». WTO Roundtable on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017



 «Gender equality, equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities.»

International Labour Organization (ILO). «ABC of Workers’ Rights and Gender Equality», 2000



«[W]e will combat gender-based discrimination in the work place, promoting equal opportunities to eliminate existing disparities between men and women in the working world through an integrated approach that incorporates gender perspective in labour policies […]»

Summit of the Americas. «Creating Jobs to Address Poverty and Strengthen Democratic Governance», paragraph 23. Mar del Plata, Argentina, 2005



«Let’s work together to achieve genuine gender equality and women’s empowerment in the world of work. Decent work for women brings decent lives for all.»

Statement by the Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder. «Achieving equality by 2030, the future is now», On the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016