WCO hosts Women in Customs, Trade and Leadership Conference

10 July 2013

Under the broad theme of opening up opportunities for women through Customs reform and modernization, the WCO hosted the first Women in Trade, Customs and Leadership Conference on 1 July 2013 at its Headquarters in Brussels. 

More than 160 delegates from Customs administrations, other international organizations, the private sector and academia, coming from over 50 countries, heard from 16 highly accomplished speakers from within and outside the Customs community. Interest in this event was strong, following discussions on women in leadership at the 8th PICARD Conference in Marrakesh in September 2012 and the 4th Session of the WCO Capacity Building Committee in Brussels in February 2013.

In his opening remarks, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya noted that "Customs needs to adapt to the present realities where women are increasingly engaged in international commerce and travel, and where they are increasingly filling the senior ranks of private and public institutions, including Customs administrations." He added that "we should harness the opportunities created by women’s leadership and use it to the benefit of our respective organizations".

The Conference’s first keynote speaker, Ms. Margaret Saner, Vice-President of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration, spoke about the challenges faced by women traders and the importance of sound public administration in addressing those challenges. This topic was further discussed during the morning session, where a particular attention was paid to the role of women in the informal sector in the developing world. Practical Customs modernization solutions to these challenges, including broader stakeholder engagement and automation of Customs procedures, were presented by leading experts in the field.

The Conference’s second keynote speaker, Mrs. Allen Kagina of the Uganda Revenue Authority, inspired the room with a discussion on her leadership through "head, heart and hand", which has resulted in significant improvements in organizational performance and staff motivation. The afternoon sessions focused on case studies demonstrating the positive correlation between workplace diversity and organizational performance. The Conference closed with inspirational discussions of how women can succeed in male-dominated organizations.

Overall, this Conference was a demonstration of the WCO’s commitment to bringing gender equality perspectives closer to the core of its business. Based on the outcomes of this Conference, the WCO will be better positioned to integrate gender equality perspectives into the Organization’s work, especially in terms of capacity building.