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Helping Women Work Helps America’s Economy

By Mary Ryckman, Senior Policy Advisor for Trade and Development -- Women's Issues

President Obama has proclaimed March to be Women’s History Month. And, today, people around the world are observing International Women’s Day. In honor of these events, I’d like to share how and why U.S. trade policy helps women work and succeed in global markets, which supports jobs here at home.

Increasing the participation of women in the workforce addresses basic issues of fairness while producing positive economic benefits. For example, there is a direct link between increased female labor participation and growth: UNWOMEN reports that gross domestic product (GDP) would be 9 percent higher in the United States, 13 percent higher in Europe and 16 percent higher in Japan, if women had work opportunities on par with men. In addition, helping women to be active in the economy is an investment in our future. Women disproportionately spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling – helping families raise the next generation of productive workers.

With these benefits in mind, let’s explore some of the ways in which U.S. trade policy helps women seize more economic opportunities.

Let’s start with the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a program that provides enhanced access for developing countries' exports into the United States. Women comprise much of the labor force in many of these countries, both in larger-scale manufacturing operations and in the home. Programs like GSP give women in developing countries more economic opportunities through trade. In turn, their efforts help to build better markets for U.S. exports that support American jobs.

Next, let’s look at the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a program that provides preferential access to the U.S. market for imports from eligible sub-Saharan African countries. AGOA has helped to create thousands of jobs in the African apparel sector, and about ninety percent of these jobs have gone to women in places where there are few other ways of earning an income in the formal sector. AGOA additionally provides opportunities for preferential access to the U.S. market for value added agricultural products from sub-Saharan Africa, such as cassava flour, tomato paste, nuts, jams, jellies, and other food products. As about eighty percent of sub-Saharan African farmers are smallholders, and the majority of these smallholder farmers are women, the preferences AGOA provides for agricultural products can go a long way to enhance the participation of women in the economy through trade.

In addition to supporting GSP and AGOA, we are taking positive steps with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies to help more women work and succeed through trade.

Last September, the U.S. hosted the APEC Women in the Economy Summit (WES) as “the premier event” to bring together senior private and public sector representatives for a dialogue on fostering women's economic empowerment among the APEC economies. Women entrepreneurs and business owners from all over the country attended to make policy recommendations to the Administration. This meeting culminated in a Declaration that committed the twenty APEC economies to continue work to advance women’s access to markets, capital, capacity building, and other training opportunities across the Asia-Pacific region.

You can find more information here on the Administration's full record of support for women.