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WCO steps up efforts to promote gender equality and diversity

20 June 2018
By Johanna Törnström, Project Coordinator, Capacity Building Directorate, WCO

According to a WCO survey from 2016, gathering approximately 60 responses from WCO Members, on average around 36% of officers employed by Customs administrations are women, with figures varying from 8% to 60% depending on the country. Moreover, the statistics showed that on average around 30% of senior management positions are held by women. These figures indicate that in terms of equal representation in Customs administrations, there is still room for improvement.

Promoting gender equality and diversity within Customs is not just a question of fundamental rights, but also a prerequisite for achieving efficient administrations adaptable to the fast-moving challenges that globalization and modern society bring. The WCO recognizes this and has stepped up its efforts to promote gender equality and diversity among its Members by launching various initiatives in 2017.

Gender equality within administrations

To encourage gender equality, Customs can play an active role, for instance, by promoting equal opportunities in recruitment, in career development and by improving work-life balance through offering more flexible working hours. Although many administrations have already made significant progress in achieving a more balanced representation, women still tend to work more frequently in certain professional roles, such as administrative support or office based work, while men are more frequently employed in management positions and in functions related to enforcement and field-based work.

This situation can be improved by assessing the recruitment process and working conditions from a gender perspective, looking, for instance, at how job advertisements are formulated, at the facilities provided, and the requirements set for different positions. However, promoting gender equality goes beyond the issue of equal representation. To enable sustainable change, organizations need to proactively and continuously engage in such matters to ensure that gender equality is considered in everyday policies, from communication to human resources and in relations with external stakeholders.

To promote deeper engagement, the WCO launched, in 2017, the Virtual Working Group on Gender Equality and Diversity, which is currently composed of representatives from around 20 Customs administrations. Using the WCO CLiKC! Platform, members of the Working Group share experiences, documents and presentations, and gather examples of good practices. They also discuss how to use and implement the WCO Gender Equality Organizational Assessment Tool (GEOAT), which was launched in 2013 and provides guidance on how to assess policies and practices from a gender perspective. The meetings organized so far have provided an opportunity for WCO Members to tackle topics related to the GEOAT, including human resource issues, career development, work-life balance, and stakeholder relations.

To further strengthen its efforts, the WCO Secretariat has started gathering examples of good practices from several Customs administrations with the long-term objective of developing a compendium that will complement the GEOAT. These practices touch on developing Gender Equality and Diversity Action Plans (Finland, Sweden, United States), establishing Women’s rights and gender equality through focused committees or departments (Ethiopia, Vietnam), recruiting dedicated gender equality officers (Germany, Guatemala), and on specific measures such as preventing sexual harassment (India, Swaziland) or promoting work-life balance (Indonesia).

In addition, the Secretariat has started developing a training package for WCO Members, which is structured into two tracks: the first is a one week workshop targeting middle and senior managers, and focuses on how to implement gender equality in overall management; and the second is an e-learning module targeting all Customs officers, and focuses on raising general awareness on gender equality and how to integrate the gender perspective into everyday practices. The development of the training package is funded under the Finland East and Southern Africa (ESA) Programme II, primarily targeting countries in that region. However, once fully developed, the training package will be available to all Members while the e-learning module will be accessible via the CLiKC! Platform.

Maximizing the potential of women traders

According to a report by the International Trade Centre (ITC) from 2015, based on data from 20 developing countries, women-owned businesses are more likely to face different kinds of barriers to trade. The challenges include a lack of access to finance, to formal business networks and to market information, as well as the higher probability of being exposed to non-tariff measures. Another report from the World Bank from 2011, presenting survey results from the Great Lakes region in Africa, shows that women traders more frequently lack information about their rights, as well as information on trade regulations and procedures. Moreover, they often face additional difficulties: for example, having to deal with corruption and sexual harassment.

It is also worth noting that, in December 2017, a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment was endorsed by 118 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This WTO Declaration acknowledges the importance of adopting gender sensitive and inclusive trade policies as a means to achieve sustainable development. In addition, it addresses the importance of promoting female entrepreneurship and trade, and to remove trade barriers for women.

Customs can play an important role in supporting women’s economic empowerment, thereby generating a positive impact on the economy as a whole. By consulting with a broad range of external stakeholders including women’s business associations, taking their needs related to safety, for instance, into particular consideration – and by providing clear and transparent information on Customs procedures, administrations can constructively facilitate women’s involvement in international trade.

This issue is also addressed in the GEOAT, which provides concrete examples of how Customs can improve their procedures, paying particular consideration to the needs of women traders. In this regard, the WCO’s increased focus on gender equality echoes its theme for 2018, “A secure business environment for economic development,” which encourages WCO Members to build an environment for traders that is enabling, safe, fair and sustainable, all wrapped into one.

Join the discussion

When the WCO Secretariat presented its latest initiatives on gender equality and diversity at the WCO Capacity Building Committee in March 2018, participants showed a big interest in this issue. The Secretariat would, therefore, like to encourage administrations to implement the GEOAT and to closely follow or participate in the work of the Virtual Working Group on Gender Equality and Diversity.

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