The WCO marks International Women’s Day 2022 by launching its Network for Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs

08 March 2022

On 8 March, the World Customs Organization (WCO) joins the international community in celebrating International Women’s Day 2022, focusing on the United Nations’ theme of “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, which highlights the vital link between gender, social equity and climate change, and stresses that without the inclusion of half of the world's population, it is unlikely that solutions for a sustainable planet will be realized.

The WCO took the opportunity of this celebration to hold a global virtual launch of its Network for Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs which has been established following an increasing interest from WCO Members to further promote this agenda. The global launch of this Network, which bring together more than 200 participants, constitutes a milestone in the WCO’s efforts to further advance gender equality and diversity, a journey that the WCO embarked on already in 2013 when the Women in Customs, Trade and Leadership conference was organized.

The launch of this Network includes two keynote interventions from the Secretary General of the WCO, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, and from the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton. During his address, Secretary General Mikuriya stresses that “Gender equality and inclusion are not only women’s issues, but should rather be considered a shared concern and commitment by all. We believe in inclusiveness, diversity and equitable treatment and opportunities for all, which is one of the WCO core values.” Afterwards, when the ITC Executive Director took the floor, she says: “At ITC, we look forward to working together to eliminate the barriers faced by women in cross-border trade and in promoting inclusive trade for all. We firmly believe that trade policymakers, border regulatory agencies and the business community need to work hand in hand to create a gender responsive business environment.”

Through two dedicated panels on the topics of “Enhancing organizations through Gender Equality and Inclusion” and “Advancing Gender Equality and Inclusion through effective stakeholder collaboration”, this event provides an opportunity for Customs representatives to share their experiences on implementing gender equality and diversity both in internal policies directed to staff, as well as external policies targeting stakeholders. The panelists include representatives from Customs in Zambia, Ireland, Philippines, Indonesia and Rwanda. Through the intervention from a representative from the World Bank Group, participants are also provided the opportunity to get familiar with the results from a study on the specific challenges faced by women traders.

The launch of this new Network goes in line with the WCO and its Membership’s commitment to advance this agenda, which was endorsed with the adoption of the Declaration on Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs in December 2020. This Declaration recognizes that gender equality and diversity are prerequisites for achieving sustainable development, growth and competitiveness and calls upon Customs administrations to share their experiences in this domain.

Customs administrations are encouraged to adopt more gender responsive and inclusive policies both internally, in areas of human resource management, leadership and career development, as well as externally, in their collaboration with stakeholders. They are also invited to share their experiences on monitoring and evaluating of such initiatives to assess progress.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of taking advantage of the use of technology and digitalization to swiftly adapt to new conditions. However, when implementing these reforms, we must also think of the accessibility of these new technologies, to ensure that they can be used by everyone.

It has also been confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic caused an accentuation of some pre-existing gender-specific trends leading to increased economic disparity caused by the economic downturn, and increased levels of gender-based violence. This reality also demonstrates the urgency for Customs administrations to mainstream gender and inclusion resilience mechanisms to reduce these risks.

The first edition of the WCO Compendium on Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs [1] was issued last year. With examples from Member administrations, this Compendium can be used as guidance to support efforts in this domain.

In 2017, the Virtual Working Group for Gender Equality and Diversity was also launched to provide a platform for Members to exchange experiences and good practices, as well as to raise awareness of the Gender Equality Organizational Assessment Tool (GEOAT). A blended training package entitled “Advancing Gender Equality in Customs” has also been developed which includes two dedicated e-learning modules available on the WCO CLiKC! Platform[2].

[1] This publication was made possible thanks to the United Kingdom’s Prosperity Fund within the scope of the Trade Facilitation in Middle Income Countries Programme.

[2] The first e-learning module was funded by the Government of Finland through the Finland-WCO East and Southern Africa Capacity Building Programme II and the second e learning was funded by the United Kingdom’s Prosperity Fund within the scope of the Trade Facilitation in Middle Income Countries Programme.