Strengthening gender equality in trade agreements 

Press Releases 
  • Only 20% of EU trade agreements mention women’s rights
  • EU trade agreements must have specific provisions for these rights to prevail
  • Particular measures to be taken to improve working conditions for women in export-oriented industries


Women’s Rights and International Trade MEPs call for provisions in EU trade agreements to promote women’s rights, in a resolution voted on Wednesday.

According to a review of current EU trade deals, only 1 in 5 of such agreements make a reference to women’s rights, and only 2 out of 5 include references aiming to promote gender equality.


The Commission and the Council should promote and support the inclusion of a dedicated Gender Chapter in all future EU trade agreements, says an own-initiative report approved by the Women’s Rights and International Trade committees on Wednesday, with 45 votes in favour, 4 against and 5 abstentions. The trade agreements must contain binding provisions to ensure the respect of human rights including gender equality, adds the text.


Currently, women are affected by inequalities and more likely to work in low-wage or low-status jobs than men, leading sometimes to discrimination, gender gaps in wages and worse working conditions.


MEPs also call for the empowerment of women in EU trade agreements based on international standards such as the UN’s Beijing Platform for Action, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).


Sector-specific measures needed


MEPs call for specific binding measures to combat exploitation and improve working and living conditions for women in export-oriented industries (such as the garment and textile manufacturing and the agriculture sector), to avoid trade liberalisation contributing to precarious labour rights and increased gender wage gaps.


Moreover, they want services of public and general economic interest, such social security, education, public transport and healthcare to be exempted from the scope of trade negotiations and to fall under the competence of governments.



Co-rapporteur Malin Björk (GUE/NGL, SE) said: ‘‘So far, international trade has not been paying attention to gender equality and women’s rights. That needs to change. This report is one step in that direction. It is not enough to say that you want to include a gender perspective, you have to have a concrete plan for it as well. That plan is what we are outlining in our report.”


Co-rapporteur Eleonora Forenza (GUE/NGL, IT) said: ‘‘The approval of the report is the prosecution of a commitment started with the report on human rights, social standards and trade of which I was also rapporteur: human rights are not a non-tariff barrier and they can’t be ignored in the name of profit. In today’s report, we try to set a gender-sensitive oriented perspective in a trade policy for the EU that has been mostly gender blind."


Next steps


The full House is set to debate and vote on the text probably during the March plenary session in Strasbourg.