Evaluating the Impact of Trade Liberalization on Women With Special Reference to the Kingdom of Bahrain

Evaluating the Impact of Trade Liberalization on Women With Special Reference to the Kingdom of Bahrain

Amal Nagah Elbeshbishi (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Morocco) and Ebtihaj A. Al A'ali (University of Bahrain, Bahrain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3710-6.ch007

Abstract

The institutional framework of the multilateral trading system (MTS) assumes that trade policies and agreements are gender neutral. There is very little known on the impact of trade liberalization on women, partly because of lack of gender-disaggregated data in trade statistics and partly because of lack of gender awareness in economic analysis. This chapter discusses the issue of trade liberalization and gender gap in general, then the issue of trade liberalization and women employment specifically, to evaluate the impact of trade liberalization on women with special reference to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Finally, the chapter concludes and discusses the policy recommendations as to whether national-level policy recommendations or international ones are necessary to move towards a gender-balanced trading system.
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Introduction

The unprecedented expansion of international trade has been one of the key transformational forces of our time, often associated with creating major opportunities for economic growth while also sometimes associated with challenges to human development. Proponents of trade liberalization benefits point to its apparent positive relationship with economic growth (e.g. Sachs and Warner, 1995; Frankel and Romer, 1999; Dollar and Kraay, 2002), while others have pointed out the technical deficiencies of such studies (e.g. Rodriguez and Rodrik, 2001; Rodriguez, 2007), emphasizing the conditionality of the association on a country’s level of income and the lack of evidence that openness has an effect on growth in developing countries (DeJong and Ripoll, 2006).

The institutional framework of the Multilateral Trading System (MTS) assumes that trade policies and agreements are gender neutral. Because trade is an aggregate like all macroeconomic components, economists assume that trade policies and agreements do not have any differential impact on men and women. This underlying assumption has led to the neglect of gender as a variable in trade policy making. Such an assumption is false because the structure of the social power relationships between men and women shape their access to and command over resources such as land, financial resources, education, etc., all of which are essential for men and women to benefit from trade. Trade has very different impacts on men and women due to gender roles and relationships of unequal power. An understanding of the relationship between gender and trade is critical in the current global environment. Although gender issues are not explicitly mentioned in the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), the commitments have important implications for gender equity. While the DDA is a long way from addressing all the critical issues raised by the trade liberalization agenda and the MTS, the inclusion of development issues in the agenda holds great potential for the integration of gender as a cross- cutting theme.

It is argued that women could either be winners or losers from trade liberalization depending on their capacities to participate in and benefit from production and trade and on the specific trade liberalization context. Due to historical patterns of patriarchal discrimination, women face major capacity constraints and inequalities vis-à-vis men in almost every determinant of economic success.

Trade policies affect women’s employment, access to markets, production, consumption patterns and social relations. Trade liberalization can be both positive and negative for women. For example, women who previously had no paid employment may have greater opportunities for employment in new businesses such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) firms or small export enterprises.

There is very little known on the impact of trade liberalization on women, partly because of lack of gender-disaggregated data in trade statistics, and partly because of lack of gender awareness in economic analysis.

This chapter is organized as follows. The section “Trade Liberalization and Gender Gap in General” will discuss the issue of trade liberalization and gender gap in general. The section “Trade Liberalization and Women’s Employment Issues” will be devoted to trade liberalization and women employment issues specifically to evaluate the impact of trade liberalization on women with special reference to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Finally, the section “Conclusion” will conclude and discuss the policy recommendations whether national- level policy recommendations or international ones to be able to move towards a gender- balanced trading system.

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