Trade and Gender Linkages: An Analysis of Least Developed Countries



Simonetta Zarrilli | United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

In the first months of 2020, the world experienced an outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The disease was declared a pandemic, and social distancing measures were introduced all around the world that resulted in travel restrictions and an unprecedented disruption in economic activity. As a result, the COVID-19pandemic has led to the worst economic and social crisis since the Great Depression. The health effects of the pandemic in the LDCs have been relatively less dramatic than was initially feared. However, the global economic downturn has had disproportionately adverse economic and social effects on the LDCs due to their lack of domestic financial resources, high debt levels, fragile health systems, and limited capacity to cope with external shocks. Moreover, the recovery path for the LDCs from the current global economic downturn is projected to be slower and longer than from previous downturns.

The economic and social impact of the COVID- 19 pandemic is disproportionality experienced by women because of occupational and sectoral gender segregation in employment, uneven division of unpaid labour, and pre- existing gender inequalities in economic and social life. Evidence from developing countries in South and South-east Asia and West Africa shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have a disproportionate negative effect on women’s employment opportunities and widen the gender gap in employment over time. Similarly, women are found to be more likely to permanently lose their job and experience a larger fall in their income than men due to the pandemic.

The same holds for women in the LDCs, since women in these countries are very active in economic activities that have been hit hard by the pandemic. These activities include horticulture and informal cross-border trade, especially important in the African LDCs; the low-skilled manufacturing sector (e.g. garments) central to many of the Asian LDCs and a few of the African LDCs; and the accommodation and food services sector and other tourism-related services that are important for most Island LDCs. Most people lack access to social protection and income- support systems in the LDCs, exacerbating the adverse impact of job losses.


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