Thursday, June 9, 2022
A Feminist Approach to Interpretation of World Trade Organization Agreements to Reveal the Lack of Neutrality
The normative content of international trade law is often depoliticised. The emphasis of trade lawyers and theorists on economics and the ‘technical’ nature of trade mechanics attempts to present the multilateral trade regime as ostensibly neutral. However, it is undeniable that the processes of trade liberalisation have a strong impact on the living conditions of people around the globe. This impact is asymmetrical: whilst trade liberalisation has created jobs for millions of workers, including millions of women, and has brought, at cases, on an individual level, greater economic independence, equality in the household, and personal empowerment, it seems that women are often negatively affected by the implementation of international trade law and policies. Moreover, despite their crucial role in increasing competitiveness and productivity, women rarely enjoy the benefits of trade liberalisation.
Although the need to re-evaluate established practices through a gender perspective is increasingly recognised in the international community, recent efforts by governments in the context of the WTO and other international institutions to engage in relevant discourse have been characterized by women’s rights groups as ‘pink herrings’: they seemingly address women’s rights but are essentially designed to mask the failures of the WTO and its role in deepening inequality and exploitation.
This paper asserts, firstly, that this is a fair criticism to the response of the WTO. It discusses how trade liberalisation has disproportionately affected women, especially women from lower incomes, rural areas and marginalised communities. It demonstrates that mere political declarations that call for inclusive economic growth and encourage the participation of women to economic activities ignore the realities of intersectional discrimination and the living conditions of millions of women that are employed precariously, under dangerous or unhealthy conditions and are denied access to public goods and basic social services. In other words, it demonstrates that trade liberalisation has a clear gendered impact.
Secondly, the paper suggests that a corrective step towards addressing the adverse impact of current trade regulations on women would be the adoption of an interpretative approach that is more deferential to international human rights law. This deference would require a paradigm shift in the approach of the WTO adjudicative bodies to the interaction of human rights law and trade law. The paper argues that the interpretation of the WTO Agreements in light of applicable human rights rules is not only analytically appropriate but also desirable from a feminist perspective.