By Bimbola Oyesola 08033246177, [email protected]
Today is the International Women’s Day (IWD) and, all over the world, there would be special programmes to commemorate the day, from Nigeria to Geneva in Switzerland and other countries of the world.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO), under, its new director-general, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is celebrating the day with a discussion on “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.”
According to WTO, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an economic tragedy worldwide but has hit women the hardest as they work in most of the sectors directly and severely impacted by the crisis.
“Women’s economic empowerment is a development and growth stimulus, but their needs and special situation are scarcely included in recovery policies and financial packages,” the WTO noted. The world body reasoned that there is room for action and trade that can help. It explained that programmes and tools are currently being launched in various regions that could mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on women.
“While assessing the current situation, this session will highlight some of those initiatives. The panel will also outline how female leadership needs to be enhanced and how it can help recover from this economic and social crisis,” WTO said.
In the same vein, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has joined with partners in the production and use of gender statistics to issue a call to action to improve gender data, building on lessons learned and gaps exposed or exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data is abundantly clear on one point: the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on women.
The ILO study noted that because more women work in the tourism, retail, and informal sectors, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, their livelihoods have been upended. According to the ILO, “understanding the extent of this impact is the first step in reversing course. Yet the pandemic has also exposed and exacerbated data gaps that undermine our ability to act intentionally and craft effective policy responses.”
This study highlights five key areas where strong and decisive action is required to achieve sustainable improvement in the availability of key gender data, including in the world of work.
“This moment presents both a choice and an opportunity. We can continue flying blind, designing policy responses in a vacuum. Or we can invest in our own recovery by prioritizing and funding the collection of data that gives us a true picture of the challenges we face.
“We have an opportunity to build the foundation of a robust and responsive data system—a system that will further empower us to design smart, targeted policies that achieve real impact.
“At the ILO, we have a long track record of promoting improvements in the availability of gender-relevant data, and we look forward to continuing on this path alongside our partners,” the ILO said.
Okonjo-Iweala hits the ground running
Meanwhile, the WTO DG, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who resumed last week, has hit the ground running and finished her first week at the WTO by meeting with ambassadors and groups of members for solutions-oriented conversations aimed at finding ways for the organization to deliver results in 2021 and beyond.
She kicked off her tenure by attending the General Council session from March 1 to 4.
On March 5, the former Nigerian finance minister met with the Group of Least Developed Countries as well as the Friends of the System, an alliance of small and mid-sized members from different regions and development levels that are committed to a well-functioning multilateral trading system.
Okonjo-Iweala also addressed the first meeting of the Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability, at the invitation of the 53-member group that is exploring ways trade and the WTO can better contribute to achieving environmental goals.
In her discussions with the LDC Group, the DG noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had reversed one or even two decades of development progress for many LDCs, and it continued to disrupt key LDC exports, whether of tourism services, commodities or manufactures.
Trade and the WTO had a critical role to play, she said, both in making COVID-19 vaccines more affordable and accessible, and in driving a global recovery in living standards.
“We are here to make life in LDCs better,” she added. “If we don’t succeed with LDCs, we will not have succeeded.”
Speaking to the Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability, the Director-General expressed agreement with the group on the “need to harness the power of trade for the environment”, drawing particular attention to climate change and the potential to create jobs in sectors such as renewable energy.
She suggested the group could look at issues including trade in environmental goods and services, how trade could help meet net-zero carbon targets, ways WTO rules could foster circular economies, and options for addressing environmentally harmful subsidies.
At the same time, Okonjo-Iweala emphasized that “the green transition must be just and fair”, with support for countries that need it, and care to ensure that environmental measures are not misused to discriminate against the exports of developing and least-developed countries.