How do women contribute to world trade? Women are important economic actors. Today, 54% of working age women are in the labour force. In 1960, women's participation in the formal labour force was only 33%. These statistics do not come close to telling the whole story though. They do not include women working in what economists call the informal and household sectors. In plain English, that means women whose work is not “recognized, recorded, protected or regulated by public authorities”, or women who are caring for their children (and thus providing the next generation of economic actors). The ILO has estimated that if only the value of unpaid work that is done by women were counted, global output would be almost 50% greater.
Trade liberalization has had a particularly striking effect on the number of women working in developing countries’ manufacturing sectors. According to the ILO, export-oriented industrialization is associated with a rising share of women’s manufacturing employment - especially in the textiles, apparel and electronics sectors. Some 70-90% of the workers employed in export processing zones (EPZs) are women. Women also produce more than half of the world’s household goods and their share of informal employment generally matches or exceeds men's.
In the more traditional agricultural sector, the FAO has estimated that women may produce over half of the world’s food.
As economic actors, women wield their pocketbooks as well as their diverse skills: women are significant consumers as well as important producers. As consumers, they typically make purchasing decisions for themselves as well as their families, compounding the economic impact of their decisions.