Going for Growth
Country-Level Evidence on the Impact of Gender on International Trade Opening up to international trade can be a lever for reducing poverty, expanding job opportunities for both women and men, and spurring technology transfer, investment, and ultimately economic growth. However, integration with international markets has differential impacts on the owners of capital and labor, on the one hand, and on workers at different levels of the skills hierarchy on the other. Research at the country level suggests that although international trade can be a positive force for the expansion of women’s participation in the labor market, it can also exacerbate economic inequality between women and men because women tend to be concentrated at the lower end of the skill ladder. Country gender assessments for Cambodia, Lao PDR, the Philippines, and Vietnam all point to the role of export expansion in increasing women’s participation in paid work, particularly in the labor-intensive manufacturing sector (ADB 2004; ADB 2002; ADB and World Bank 2008). However, several issues remain notable. Women are concentrated in certain sectors of these countries’ export markets. In the Philippines, for example, women constitute 63 percent of the electronics industry, concentrated in low-value-added and labor-intensive work. Whereas women constitute 85 percent of lower-paid production operators in that industry, the higher-paid technicians and engineers are almost always male (ADB and World Bank 2008). In Cambodia, the rapid rise in women’s economic participation has been driven by the exporting garment industry. Rising participation has, in turn, contributed significantly to national growth. Women constitute 90 percent of the workforce in this industry, with garments contributing 94 percent of recent manufacturing growth (ADB 2004). In Lao PDR, women are concentrated in textiles as well as in commercial weaving and embroidery activities, and the country has established relationships with buyers in Thailand and overseas markets. However, the phaseout of quotas under the new World Trade Organization (WTO) regime has made the position of women garment workers across the region precarious as competition from lower-cost producers forces wages and labor standards down. Both women and men are vulnerable because of lax labor protections in export processing zones (EPZs). In the Philippines, for example, EPZ workers are not allowed to join unions, and minimum contractual conditions (for example, paid leave) tend to be lower than national norms. Similar provisions apply in the EPZs in Cambodia. (continued)
Published on May 10, 2010
The East Asia and Pacific region has made great progress, relative to other regions, with regard to both economic development and, specifica...