The World Customs Organization (WCO) is pleased to join the international community in celebrating International Women’s Day 2017 with the theme ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030,’ while specifically focusing on ‘Women in Customs,’ a transversal theme for 2017.
While a ‘Day’ dedicated to women’s achievements has existed since 1909, the United Nations (UN) began celebrating International Women's Day on 8 March 1975 – an occasion to reflect on the importance of gender equality, listed among the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the 2030 Agenda as contributing to enhancing sustainable economic growth and benefiting societies as a whole.
WCO Deputy Secretary General, Sergio Mujica opened the ceremony at WCO Headquarters by underlining that gender equality was not a goal but rather a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance. After describing the current situation in Customs in terms of gender equality, he listed WCO initiatives already taken towards gender equality and encouraged the Customs community to use some existing tools at policy and organizational levels to further ensure workplace gender equality within Customs administrations.
In her keynote address to the assembled guests, H.E Grace M. Mutale Kabwe, Ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to Belgium, explained how, in her opinion, Zambia’s ratification of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement could have a positive impact on opportunities for women by granting small and medium sized-enterprises (SMEs) easier access to international trade through simplified Customs procedures. She added that she strongly believed that modernized Customs procedures would allow more women to enter the formal labour market and therefore work towards gender equality.
Ms. Sigfríður Gunnlaugsdóttir from Iceland Customs, in her capacity as Chairperson of the WCO Integrity Sub-Committee, also shared her experience and views as a woman in a leadership position in Customs on how gender equality was being addressed in her Administration and why this topic should be given the attention it deserves. She also elaborated on Iceland’s experience of equality and pointed out the benefits of having a diverse workforce in business and Customs and that even though improvements were slow in coming around the world, a change in mindset and attitude was possible with greater commitment by all stakeholders.
With the hosting of its ‘Women in Customs, Trade and Leadership Conference’ in July 2013, the WCO embraced gender equality as an important topic and developed a Customs-specific diagnostic tool known as the ‘WCO Gender Equality Organizational Assessment Tool’ (GEOAT).
This tool is now available to WCO Member Customs administrations to assess their policies, practices and activities relating to gender issues, ensuring that gender is mainstreamed in the design and implementation of WCO capacity building programmes that support Customs reform and modernization initiatives.
The concept of ‘gender mainstreaming,’ considered one of the key pillars of the WCO gender equality approach, is on the agenda of the WCO Capacity Building Committee, and the WCO Leadership and Management Development (LMD) Programme also contains a full module on gender equity to ensure that gender diversity and stereotypes are addressed.
In addition, the WCO launched a survey targeting gender and diversity in October 2016, in an effort to collect data from Customs administrations which would enable a global picture to be formed on where the Customs community stands on these issues, providing a basis for discussions during the next meeting of the WCO Capacity Building Committee.
The WCO reiterates its commitment to remain proactive in finding ways to raise awareness on the importance of achieving gender parity within the global Customs community, thereby contributing to its Members’ efforts towards ensuring sustainable development.