Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The distributional outcomes of trade agreements have historically been uneven, creating both “losers” as well as “winners” and benefitting certain stakeholders while leaving others without benefits or even with negative repercussions. In particular, distributional outcomes can vary between women and men, since they play different roles in society, markets, and economies, and they enjoy different opportunities as well. At times, and sometimes by their very nature, trade agreements can restrict opportunities for women and further increase the gender divide. But in recent years, there has been a drastic upsurge in the number of countries that are incorporating commitments on gender equality in their trade agreements.

Currently, of all free trade agreements in force, around one-third have at least one explicit provision relating to gender equality. Yet almost no trade agreement so far contemplates how gender-related commitments could be implemented or enforced, and no trade agreement approaches gender on a holistic level that can meaningfully address distributional issues. Most legal provisions incorporated in trade agreements so far have been drafted in the spirit of best endeavor cooperation and are often blamed for being mere “Cinderella” provisions. In order to reverse the distributional inequities, a more comprehensive approach based on women’s roles and economic realities is needed, as is further research on what would improve distribution of opportunities for women. With more and more countries considering gender mainstreaming, this raises an important question: Is “gender mainstreaming” in trade agreements used as a “Potemkin Facade” to hide larger distributional issues? This paper will not fully answer this question, but it will expand upon possibilities and offer reflections to spark debate and discussions on this concern.

Publication Citation

Published in Making Trade Work for Women: Key Findings from the 2022 World Trade Congress on Gender, World Trade Organization, 2023.