Global Resources

Trading up, crowded out: ensuring economic diversification works for women

Author: D. Jayasinghe, R. Noble
Publisher: ActionAid International
Publication Date: Jun 2016

This ActionAid UK briefing explores the relationship between gender inequality and economic diversification in the context of export manufacturing in the developing world, drawing on the work of feminist economists and scholars to identify some of the key drivers of gender inequalities in the sector. Factors discussed include: gender stereotypes deployed to devalue and control; low pay and precarity propelling a cycle of exploitation; the burden of unpaid care as a barrier to decent work; migration, and the risk of exploitation it can bring; and gender-based violence, often used as means of subjugation.


The brief presents new analysis which finds a strong positive association between gender equality and export diversification and quality, meaning that countries with stronger export profiles also seem to be more gender equal. This suggests that developing countries could diversify their economies whilst also achieving higher levels of gender equality. However, historical experience suggests that as countries add value to their manufacturing base and diversify their economies, women often lose jobs in manufacturing, who may then be pushed back into informal work.


The authors conclude that economic growth alone, even with diversification, will not prevent the reproduction of patriarchal structures and norms in developing countries economies and workplaces. What is needed are robust policies addressing gender discrimination, to accompany any efforts to diversify economies. This should include the redistribution of women’s unpaid care burden, ensuring their access to decent work, and upholding their right to collectively organise.


The brief offers a number of recommendations to governments, donors and international financial institutions regarding the need for:

  • Systematic review of the impacts of trade, fiscal and other macroeconomic policies on women workers in the global South.

  • Gender impact assessments of economic diversification measures.

  • Stakeholders to work with women’s organisations, unions, and wider civil society to develop women-led strategies for redressing gender segregation of labour markets, and the discrimination that underpins it.

  • Corporations to respect the right to decent work throughout supply chains, and to pay their fair share of tax in the developing countries where they produce goods.