Gender.  As every year, Brussels hosted the European Development Days (EDD) in early June.[1] The theme for this year’s forum, Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development shows the interest of the European Union (EU) in working on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and the need to promote and vindicate the relevance of women in human and economic development of all nations.[2] As in other sectors, such as education and health, the role of women in trade and investment development is essential, both in its role as a consumer and in the responsibilities that women carry in production processes.

In African culture, the role of women is still much more relevant than in Western cultures. In African countries, women are responsible for maintaining and educating the children as well as for housework, the collection of drinking water from communal wells and the work in subsistence agriculture as well as being small traders that allows them to exchange their goods or convert them into a few coins.

In general, women in Africa have few opportunities to develop a commercial career at a regional or international level. In spite of a woman’s role in the support of her family and of her role as a trader in the daily life of the towns and cities, its relevance is relegated to a second position. Therefore, I consider that the protection and promotion of women should be guaranteed for the continuity and sustainability of trade in Africa. This should be based on respect for women’s fundamental rights and offer protection of their social and labour rights at the same level as for men.


International trade remains more concerned about short-term profits than about being a transforming instrument of societies that helps to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities between developed and developing countries. Trade must also be an element that helps to reduce inequalities between men and women, especially in those societies in which the weight of responsibilities falls on women while the patriarchal parameters of the organization of the society are preserved.

The new generation Free Trade agreements include provisions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[3] These provisions try to include, in the commercial agreements, chapters about improving decent working conditions that protect the rights of workers in accordance with international treaties[4]. In addition, the provisions commit to including environmental standards that ensure respect for the environment and help to reduce the adverse effects of climate change. Finally, there is an effort to include provisions on human rights that offer protection to local communities affected by abuse by transnational companies and corruption.

The EU’s effort to create a new sensibility that protects the rights of women and promotes gender equality in trade is often frustrated by the lack of effective implementation of the provisions that foster the role of women in free trade agreements. That is why the World Trade Organization stated in Buenos Aires during the Ministerial Conference of 2017 that if women’s access to trade is facilitated and cultural barriers are reduced, these measures will help to women to become transforming agents of society, reducing poverty and generating a dynamic of sustainability.[5]

The role of women in all spheres of society cannot be left in frustrating (joint) declarations but require specific chapters with provisions about women in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), such as Economic Partnership Agreements, that protect the rights of women, rights that start with something as basic as the respect of human rights.

The way towards the sustainability

Just as social and environmental conditions are different between the European Union and its trading partners in Africa, the situation of women in both regions is also unequally (un)protected. Women’s rights in European countries are theoretically well protected but still women face a lack of opportunities and suffer inequality and discrimination.[6] But the reality is more dramatic in Africa where women also suffer sexual violence which is used as a weapon of war.

For all these reasons AEFJN advocates the incorporation of specific measures in free trade agreements that protect women in general and those in developing countries in particular. These measures should ensure women’s dignity, reinforcing their role in the society and promoting their participation in trade initiatives that have been socially vetoed for women till now.

The EU should keep in mind that trade sustainability is achieved not only through commercial transactions between countries and regions, but also by facilitating access to decent work for all women of all ages, designing programs for women’s empowerment, facilitating access to specific financial programs and protecting them from abuse. Women play an essential role in the path of sustainable development, providing stability to economic growth and developing structures of equality. It is clear that if women win, so will society. And trade as well.

José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda

AEFJN Policy Officer

[1] EDD is an annual International forum organized by the European Union to share ideas and experiences in ways that inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s challenges.


[3] Non-paper of the Commission Services Improving the implementation and enforcement of Trade and Sustainable Development chapters in EU Free Trade Agreements

[4] ILO conventions

[5] Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment

[6] Tackling the gender pay gap file:///C:/Users/admin_assistant/Downloads/ActionPlanonTacklingtheGenderPayGap.pdf

Seer also Directive 75/117/CEE, Directive 76/207/CEE, Directive 79/7/CEE