Gender equality and inclusion in Customs at the forefront of high-level discussions

24 September 2021

On 24 September 2021, the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, together with Ms. Sabine Henzler, European Commission Director, Directorate-General for the Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD) of the European Commission, inaugurated an online event on “Women in Customs” hosted by DG TAXUD.

Through its two high-level panel discussions on the topics of “Core Values for Effective Leaders” and “Transforming Organizations through Equality and Inclusion”, this event provided an opportunity for Customs representatives to share their views on the importance of implementing gender equality and inclusion.

This forum, which brought together approximately 200 representatives from Customs around the world, is the first to be organized in the context of the Network for Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs. This Network, which is yet to be officially launched by the WCO, aims at providing a high-level platform for sharing inspirational experiences on how to drive this agenda forward in an effort to make Customs more inclusive.

“Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace encourages innovation, and improves both individual and organizational performance, since people with different backgrounds bring different perspectives and ideas to the table,” said the WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya. “It is a question of human rights, sustainable development and well-being,” he added.

During the discussion on “Core Values for Effective Leaders”, panellists stressed that gender equality and inclusion depend very much on the organizational culture, which originates from the organization’s upper level of management and filters down to all staff. Empathetic leadership based on inclusive human resource management, awareness raising, promotion of best practices and mentorship programmes were highlighted as key ingredients for creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

During the panel discussion on “Transforming Organizations through Equality and Inclusion”, the importance of ensuring work-life balance as well as career development within Customs was underlined. The possibilities of increased engagement and empowerment of women traders through the use of smart technologies and digital solutions were also highlighted.

Gender equality and diversity are considered as prerequisites for any WCO capacity building endeavour, as it can contribute to enhancing Customs administrations’ overall performance. WCO Members are therefore encouraged to adopt a holistic approach and to integrate these perspectives both in their internal policies, such as human resource management, leadership and career development, and in their external policies, such as stakeholder collaboration and border operations. The WCO Gender Equality Organizational Assessment Tool (GEOAT) provides guidelines on how Customs can implement gender mainstreaming following a project cycle management approach.

In December 2020, the WCO Council unanimously adopted the Declaration on Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs, confirming WCO Members’ increased interest in moving this agenda forward. From there arose the idea of creating the new Network for Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs.

Since 2013, when the WCO started promoting this agenda with the organization of the first conference on Women in Customs, Trade and Leadership, a number of initiatives and tools have been launched for the benefit of its Members.

In addition to the GEOAT, the WCO has developed a Blended Training Package on Advancing Gender Equality and Inclusion in Customs and runs a Virtual Working Group on Gender Equality and Diversity to provide a platform for Members to exchange practices and experiences on these topics. Furthermore, earlier this year, the WCO published the first edition of the “WCO Compendium on Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs” showcasing examples from 17 Member administrations around the world.

The event concluded on a video message by European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni saying: “Gender equality is not just a moral imperative or a matter of fairness for me. Gender equality is good for growth. Our economic analyses have time and time again revealed that adding women to the labour force boosts economic growth and leads to gains in both output and productivity. And forging greater gender parity not only benefits women, it benefits men, families and the society at large.”

During this “Women in Customs” event, the WCO took the opportunity to reaffirm its strong commitment to continue promoting and supporting the advancement of gender equality and diversity in Customs. This new Network should play a strategic role in raising awareness of the opportunities and benefits to be gained in implementing gender-responsive and inclusive policies in Customs, as well as in the follow-up to and review of the implementation of the Declaration at a senior-management level.

The WCO expressed its appreciation and thanks to the EU, the panellists and the participants for sharing their views and experiences and contributing to the success of this first gathering in the context of the new Network. This event provided the ideal forum for a first dialogue on “Women in Customs”, which hopefully will inspire Customs administrations around the world to drive this agenda forward.