Understanding Barriers to Women’s Economic Advancement

May 16, 2022

Understanding Barriers to Women’s Economic Advancement

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Kate Francis

Trade policymakers at the World Trade Organization and elsewhere have begun to think about trade as an instrument that can improve gender equality across the world. What do they need to know to design trade agreements and rules that can help women? Kate Francis, an independent consultant currently serving as a gender advisor at The Asia Foundation, explains the barriers that women face to economic empowerment, how they differ from place to place, and what kind of data we need to inform strategies that can make a difference. All views expressed by Francis in this podcast are her own. 

Opinions expressed on Trade Matters are solely those of the guest or host and not the Yeutter Institute or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Show Notes


Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the audio before quoting in print and write yeutterinstitute@unl.edu to report any errors. Transcripts will be posted within one week of the show.

Jill O'Donnell: Kate, thank you so much for joining us on Trade Matters today.

Kate Francis: Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited about this conversation.

Jill O'Donnell: I am too. You know, I have realized you know, more and more recently that the trade policy community is talking about gender equality and women's economic empowerment more and more. And often those conversations focus on how women across the world can better access the benefits of free trade agreements, or how free trade agreements could be designed to help reduce gender inequality. And the World Trade Organization is doing a lot more work, especially over the last few years to institutionalize gender into what it does every day. But first, I think it's important to understand the barriers to economic advancement that women around the world face, though, beyond the border issues that not only impact women's ability to benefit from trade agreements and free trade but can also impact their overall economic wellbeing and kind of ability to advance economically where they are. The World Bank, and WTO issued a report in 2020, called Women and trade. And there's a quote in that report that I think really clarifies this for me and is a great starting point for our discussion today. And that is, quote, the extent to which women can take advantage of trade opportunities depends on more than trade policies on quotes. And this report goes on to mention the importance of investments in education, health infrastructure, as well as access to finance and digital technologies. I think this is really important point. And these happen to be the kinds of things that are traditionally in the realm of International Development, which is your area of expertise, especially when it comes to women's economic empowerment. And so I thought of you right away, when I knew I wanted to do a podcast episode, on this topic, you and I first met at the Asia Foundation, where you work now where I had the privilege of writing about some of the work that you have done and your colleagues have done to help improve the lives of women all over Asia. And I've always been so fascinated by and so impressed by the dogs on the ground work day after day, year after year, even decade after decade that the Asia Foundation is doing. And so for our listeners who don't know what the Asia Foundation is, it's a nonprofit or national development organization that's committed to improving lives across the dynamic and developing Asia, which I think is a terrific statement of the organization's work. But I'd like to start by having you tell us a little bit more about the nature of your work both for the Asia Foundation and other work that you've done, and what the foundation is doing for women across Asia.

Kate Francis: Thank you so much for having me Jill, again. And, you know, I'm really excited about this work that you're leading, and in particular, the questions that you're asking, it's just really thrilled to be part of the conversation. You know, like you noted, the Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization. And we focus on a number of areas that we see as essential for building broad based social and economic progress across the countries where we work. We have 19 country offices, I think, back when we worked together, it was 18 is that we have one more now and, you know, based across the Asia Pacific region, and some of those have been around for nearly 70 years. Going back to your point about decades, there's been almost seven of them. And we're really, really lucky to have some of the most talented and inspiring staff collaborating on a lot of these key issues that we work on, which include good governance, women's empowerment and gender equality, inclusive economic growth in the environment and climate action, and regional and international relations. But given you know, our topic today, I thought I do you know, kind of one click down on how we work on gender specifically, we take a two pronged approach to to addressing women's empowerment and gender equality. One approach is designing programs that specifically target problems that are holding women back from reaching their full potential and you know, equity equitably engaging in societies. So these programs that explicitly focus on gender gaps can include things like building women's political leadership and public office for Combating Gender Based Violence or, you know, supporting women's entrepreneurship through women only business incubators. The other approach is that is focusing more on gender mainstreaming and gender equality, sorry, gender integration. And this basically just means that we recognize that women are a key constituency across everything that we do, you know, at the Asia Foundation in every program that we implement, whether it's climate change, or you know, including inclusive economic growth or addressing violent conflict in communities You know, all of these programs are not specifically designed to advance gender equality as a primary objective. But by using a gender mainstreaming approach and gender analysis, we're, you know, able to understand how diverse groups of women are affected by this issue that we're working on, or you know, what their priorities are within the context of the problem. And then perhaps most importantly, how they can contribute to and participate in a solution, that's going to be ultimately more sustainable for everybody, at the end of the day, because it's better reflects a broader set of priorities than just those of a dominant group, which, if we're honest, tends to be overwhelmingly male. And so I think it's, it's important to note too, in this, you know, conversation that by saying women, we're not actually talking about homogenous group, that, you know, women and all of us carry a lot of social identities with us that can compound, you know, exclusion, or, you know, contribute to poor outcomes and increased risk. So, you know, women from minority ethnic and religious groups, for example, or women with disabilities, women from low income households, or women who identify as all of those things, engaging diverse groups of women like these is really critical to understanding how a program is affecting those who in many cases have the most to lose, if a problem if a program doesn't address their needs, or they have the most to gain as well. I do want to also point out that, you know, throughout all of our programs, the way that we implement is a bit different from a lot of international organizations, we've collaborated with local partners, local civil society organizations, women's groups, and feminist movements, in, you know, the countries where we worked for, you know, decades, these are long standing relationships. And so, you know, both at the country level and the regional level, so that that ensures that the approaches that we're taking are really responsive to the specific challenges in in these specific areas. And so local partnerships, and co creation is really a, the perhaps the biggest strength that we bring to the table at the end of the day. So sorry, for such a long winded answer. But hopefully, it gives us some good background and a place to start on what we're doing and how we do it.

Jill O'Donnell: Absolutely. I think there's several things you said there, and one I'm going to pick up on in particular, as a really great jumping off point into, you know, the next question I have for you. And that was your point about just saying the word women does not even begin to get, you know, our heads around different barriers that women face to advancing in society or economically. I really liked how you laid that out there. One of the things that struck me in a report that you co authored, along with the Asian Development Bank, a few years ago, called "Emerging Lessons on Women's Entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific," really pointed out how well there are common problems across the world that women might face and advancing economically, they might face a similar problem for different reasons. And so there's a lot to dig into there to really understand what particular woman might be facing in a particular place. And so one example that you gave was the difficulty in accessing credit, for example, in many places, women do not own anything in their own name. Therefore, it's very difficult to establish any basis for being able to apply for credit from a bank to grow or expand a business. But there are different reasons that it might be difficult for women to access credit. So that's just one example in your report. So could you perhaps walk us through maybe that one is some of the other barriers to economic advancement? In this case, it was entrepreneurship that you discovered through the process of writing that report.

Kate Francis: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this, to be clear, this question could totally launch 1000 podcasts.

Jill O'Donnell: I know it could!

Kate Francis: I was thinking that maybe I could focus on three barriers, that, you know, kind of we work on fairly consistently, and I think kind of illustrate some, some larger trends and, and challenges. I'll start with lack of access to finance and credit, because you brought it up, and that's such a critical one. You know, we note in that report that you that you cited that, you know, in Asia in the Pacific, the formal finance gap for women entrepreneurs is 58%. Well, the gap for men is only 42%. And keeping in mind that there's a huge finance gap for everyone. I think that's one of the takeaways from those stats, but that women just face you know, so many more barriers than men and it's complex. So women don't have access to traditional forms of collateral for one thing, because, you know, it's required by formal lending institutions in general because they've worked with men all of these years, but women don't have land in their names, they don't have house, you know, their houses aren't in their names not registered in their names. And so that's usually the form of collateral that banks are willing to take. And meanwhile, you know, banks aren't really even that friendly to women, if we sit back and think about what it's like for a woman to walk into a bank. Loan officers tend to have an unconscious bias at best conscious in at worst. And view women as you know, very as higher risk than men, even when the data clearly says the opposite. And that, you know, the forms that women have to fill out can be really intimidating for women who have never done this before. And the documents to apply for a loan can be really difficult to get for women. And then we even go back a step further and say, "when are banks open?" Banks aren't even open at convenient times for women who very often have considerable childcare and other care responsibilities, that they can't just up and leave in the middle of the day when the banks are open. When you noted this barrier in the beginning, and how it can look different in different contexts, that reminds me of the example that we found from the Pacific Islands where sometimes the closest bank branch is three islands over. And so it's a huge lift, considering, you know, childcare responsibilities that need to be you know, juggled and cost of getting there, you know, every time a woman needs to go to a bank, so in this case, digital financial solutions could really have an incredibly outsized impact, whereas, you know, digital financial inclusion strategies may not be that big of a deal in other places. So it has to be really, you know, kind of related to the specific context of where women are working and operating. And these are all, you know, the things that we've talked about so far have been all related to the formal sector banking area. But there's also microfinance, and  informal banking options that are much easier to access for women. And so they often use those and they go through those, but the carries a ton of challenges on that side as well, because there's huge, you know, high interest rates, and short repayment timelines that can really constrain the growth and ambition of women's enterprises, even if it, you know, makes financing more accessible. So, I'll go into the second barrier that I think is really important, and that's lack of access to markets, which is, you know, really a challenge, especially considering in these COVID times, but even before COVID. Women have in many countries have to negotiate really complex restrictions on their mobility that never crosses the minds of men. And, you know, cultural expectations that women can't, you know, interact with men outside their households, for example, which is the case in a lot of countries in South Asia, it really makes it difficult for women to buy inputs to sell their products, to negotiate compensation. The Asia Foundation, broadly speaking, not directly addressing that issue, but thinking in the COVID context has been really working a lot over the last couple of years in kind of countries like China and Mongolia, to help women entrepreneurs, shift their businesses online, as a way to overcome some of the in-person COVID related market access issues, and kind of set the stage, you know, for greater growth going forward. And finally, the third barrier, I'll mention, and I know this is long winded, so I'll try to speed it up.

Kate Francis: It's about networks and skill building. I think this is so important. And we work on this a lot. Women's businesses tend to be concentrated in services and other low growth sectors. And they're really underrepresented in STEM sectors science, technology, engineering, and math. And those, those sectors tend to be where the high growth opportunities are. And they're also male dominated. And I'm here to say that the old boys network, is it really alive and well in these sectors, and it can be really hard for women to not only break into STEM fields, but you know, once they're there, they faced incredibly harsh working environments, sometimes replete with discrimination and sexual harassment, and just plain unfriendly working conditions. That makes it really hard, you know, to grow into leadership positions, or even to stay in the field at all. There's huge attrition rates around among women in STEM fields, in Asia and elsewhere. So recognizing, you know, all of these things, the Asia Foundation launched a program called "Go Digital ASEAN," which is an initiative that is working in 10 countries and it aims to really broaden the digital skills of our target. It is 200,000 people from rural regions and underserved communities, it really focusing in on women led small and micro businesses, as well as unemployed youth, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. So it's an amazing program, it's really been incredible to watch. We're also creating, creating a women in STEM network in the Asia-Pacific region as part of the "Future Skills Alliance," which was just launched this year. And we're going to be the program is really going to focus on offering mentoring and networking opportunities to support early career women working in STEM fields, to build their confidence, build their skills, and also to build their support systems, to set them up for success in their fields, in the long run, and so that they'll stay in these high income, high potential sectors. So another long winded answer, so apologies for that. But I, I could go on and on when it comes to the to the question of barriers,

Jill O'Donnell: I know you could, and that is a terrific kind of summary to get us even started thinking about all these things. And I know, we could probably do several podcast episodes with you, Kate, on each one of these. There's so much here a few things that struck me and what you just said, one, your emphasis on digital that you mentioned a few times, it seems like that might offer some hope or possibility of new strategies, even things that are already happening, like Go Digital ASEAN, for example, to try to maybe address some of these barriers in new ways. Secondly, your emphasis there toward the end of your discussion there on networking and mentoring, that seems really important. And I want to follow up on that one too. And also an area where I already know the Asia Foundation has done some work on this. And well, we'll talk about that a little bit later to in the podcast, but where you don't have to wait for government policy to do something for you. But you can start building on the ground these networks to help women learn and bolster and support each other. And finally, your mention of kind of cultural expectations and unconscious bias that might be at play in some of these barriers is what I want to pick up on next. Because I think that's really important to understand and really kind of hard to dislodge or to get at. So I want to talk with you a little bit more about you know how you can do that or what the approaches are. In some places, and I learned this through my time at the Asia Foundation, there's not a single law on the books in some countries that bars women from things like owning a business or other assets, but the barriers rather spring from cultural norms. And I'll quote again, from your reports that you co-authored with Asian Development Bank, that any effort to address barriers has to address the underlying cultural norms of a community. And in fact, the World Bank WTO study I mentioned at the outset of our podcast interview here today makes a similar point, noting that quote, for women to fully benefit from trade changes in socio cultural attitudes are often necessary trade policies cannot overcome discriminatory legal and socio cultural barriers that prevent women from opening a bank account running their own businesses working in certain sectors or crossing borders and quote, so addressing underlying cultural barriers. I know we could have an entire episode on this. But I want to get initial thoughts from you on how we're really two questions. The first one is how do you even begin to approach the task of changing deeply embedded cultural norms that are holding women back?

Kate Francis: It's a hard question, but it goes to the crux of the issue in a lot of ways. So I mean, gender norms aren't constant, or uniform across communities. And I think, you know, if there's anything we've learned, it's that nuance is everything in terms of being able to, you know, get the message, right, the priorities right, when it comes to gender equality and women's empowerment. You know, it has a lived experience in communities. So my response to that question, you know, of how to support positive norms change is really to invest heavily and directly in local women's organizations and feminist movements. There are incredible visionaries who know what the needs are, what needs to get done in their communities and in their countries. And making sure that they have the financial support and the platform to execute their mission is really critical. And, you know, they are the best ones to be able to, you know, have these discussions to open these doors to potential new ways of thinking about women's roles in society. In order to support that work, I think it's also really important to think about data and evidence. It's like this huge elephant in the corner of just about every room, that where you're going to talk about gender, is that we need data to build the case for change, so that collecting and publishing gender disaggregated and gender sensitive data down to the local level, will go a long way to changing mindsets, because people will better understand what's happening in their communities, and why. And there'll be evidence out there that will start these discussions and women's movements could really desperately, and everyone else governments, you know, private sector, everyone could use these conversations to advance to advance gender equality goals.

Jill O’Donnell: Excellent point about data and one that I want to delve into more with you. We've been hearing a lot about this lately. But first, following up on what you said about investing heavily in women's networks, this is something I investigated a little bit, again, when I was at the Asia Foundation with one particular case study in Bangladesh, where we have a case where women, entrepreneurs did not have any assets in their names, it was kind of related to cultural norms there. But working with the Asia Foundation, a group of women came together and figured out a solution to their common problem, which was that they formed what they call social collateral through their own business associations. So women could apply for loans, and they would all vouch for each other and kind of serve as guarantors on each loan application. So by kind of coming together and forming the social collateral, they could apply for loans, receive the loans, and it was actually working quite well, at the time, at least, that I was looking at this. But what struck me in thinking about this, and looking back on it, is it's kind of a workaround to the underlying problem. It didn't change the fact that women, these women still had no assets in their name, they just found a way around it, and it was working, you know, at the time. And so a question I have for you is some sometimes are there just kind of these necessary workarounds, or interim steps toward greater change before you can get to that greater change that gets at the deeper underlying problem?

Kate Francis: Yeah, I mean, totally. And I think that some workarounds don't really fundamentally eliminate the barrier outright, it, it definitely moves the needle in the right direction. And, you know, with gender equality, I think one of the hardest things for me sometimes is that, you know, I like instant gratification, who doesn't, but, recognizing that these endeavors that we're that we're in, that we're trying to, these norms that we're trying to change, globally, is, this is a marathon, this is not a sprint, and we know that gender norms, you know, are somewhat flexible, but they're really resistant to change. So working in increments, you know, can be really effective. And this is, I guess, there's one other point that I'll make, you know, from this example of, of these Bangladeshi women that you mentioned, and I love that you still remember this example, from back in the day, but one of the things that really struck me when I was writing that report with ADB was that one of the indicators of success for a lot of these women's economic program empowerment programs is how many businesses have been started, what is their increased revenue, you know, really looking at kind of hard data in economic terms. And what we don't do a very good job of collecting is the kind of ancillary or attenuating effects that have huge impacts on women's individual lives, such as just having more like you said, social collateral, and what that means for their, for their confidence for their ability to step out and start becoming more public figures; women's leadership in local communities, running for office. Some women who start businesses will eventually then go on to be leaders in public office. And so thinking about what empowerment means, economic empowerment means in the broad context of women's wellbeing and ability to fully live out their potential, I think is so important. And it goes back to the norms work that, you know, these things are slow, but it happens, you know, in individual lives, and it happens, you know, kind of in broader communities, and sometimes between the two is kind of where the magic happens.

Jill O'Donnell: Okay, thank you. Let's talk about data too, let's come back to that, because I've been hearing more emphasis on data as well lately. You know, a key takeaway from again, the report that you coauthored with ADB is that there's no single fix to many of these challenges. I think that's pretty evident by this point in the conversation too. They require really tailored solutions that take account of specific conditions in each place. And that requires really good data. And you know, it struck me a few weeks ago, I listened to a public webinar hosted by the Washington International Trade Association, which does great work in educating a lot of us about trade, and this one was on gender and trade. The headline takeaway from that session echoed your point that there is a need for more data, in particular gender disaggregated data. So first, help us understand what is gender disaggregated data? And what does it tell us?

Kate Francis: Okay, so great, I'm so excited, we get to go back to this. So gender, or sex disaggregated data, is breaking out the responses of men and women where the experiences of men and women, and, and other, you know, social factors, to better understand what's really happening to different groups that may be differently affected by a problem, or a solution that would be obscured if you just looked at the top line data point. So gender disaggregated data can be qualitative or quantitative. But overall, it can help identify gender inequities in outcomes. It can help identify what's working for women and for men, for that matter. And if you gather data over time, you can start to monitor progress, and understand the progress that you're seeing on a given problem, or initiative. So I'll also say that gender disaggregated data is only one part of the gender data toolkit if I can use that term, because there's also gender sensitive data collection, which is a bit different, which considers what questions are important to ask to really get at the heart of whatever issue you're trying to address from a gender perspective. So for example, if you're doing a survey, and asking entrepreneurs, men and women about constraints to growth during the pandemic, and you don't include a question about unpaid care responsibilities, then you're very likely going to miss the boat entirely for half of your of your respondents. So you know, ensuring that you're asking the right questions is just absolutely critically important. And I think equally important, is making sure that decision makers in the private sector, and companies or decision makers in government are aware that gender disaggregated data exists, so that they can actually use it to make better policies and decisions. That'll increase the demand for that data so that there is sustained funding over time, so that that gender data will continue, and that longitudinal perspective is possible. If anybody listening to your podcast is interested in a deeper dive into gender data, I highly recommend taking a look at "Data 2C," which is an organization that's working to build the case and mobilize action for expanding gender data globally. So you'll get a lot more information about why gender data is really critical. And the World Bank has its gender data portal, which is, you know, all of the gender data that the World Bank has available in a really nice format. So it's just an incredible resource, highly recommend.

Jill O’Donnell: Thank you, Kate, we'll put both of those links to those in our show notes. That's very helpful. This gets to my question—is there a lack of data? Or is there a lack of awareness of the data? Because I've heard so much about this lack of data and I'm kind of wondering, is it more a lack of the data itself, or a lack of easy access to it, or lack of just awareness that it exists among policymakers? I've also been pondering the fact that organizations like the Asia Foundation, which has been in existence for 70 years, as you reminded me, there are case studies produced by the Asia Foundation on its work... there is data. So, what is the real problem, the lack of data, or lack of awareness, or both? Kind of help us understand what we're missing here.

Kate Francis: Yeah, I think it's "C", all of the above. But I think I mean, there are several reasons that are somewhat overlapping. So there's a lack of data at the national level, particularly for sex disaggregated and gender sensitive data collection, sorry there's a lack of funding. And so I think that's a really big problem that national statistical offices need to be well resourced in order to be able to collect data at a high quality over time. And I think there's also a lack of demand from policymakers who make the budgets. They may not know that this data exists, or how to use it to improve their policymaking. So there's a learning curve there that we need to go through. And then there's also the national statistical offices staff. Very few of them have gender data experts on their staff to really ensure that the routine data collection that happens as part of a country's annual governance processes, are gender sensitive. And so we need more data on, you know, so many things. But I will say that to start with, you know, to answer your question about what data we don't have, you think taking an example for very recent and in salient experience globally, is that many countries have spent a ton of money on COVID-19 relief and recovery. But in many cases, we have no idea how those funds impacted men and women differently. We don't know how many women's businesses for example, were supported with those funds, and what was the result? So, most countries can't answer those questions. And so if they can't answer those questions, then what does it mean to you know, continue to fund things that we don't actually know if they work, or to not fund things that can actually be transformative, at the end of the day. The stakes are really high when it comes to gender data. If you can't tell, this is something I've thought a lot about. But even in the United States, some of some of our states have been really slow to provide data that has been broken down by sex and race, and even fewer have been broken down by both of those factors. So no one's getting this exactly right. But another couple of big data points that were missing, that I feel like are worth noting is time use, number one. Which is so important for being able to get a fuller understanding of women's true contribution to GDP by capturing their unpaid care contributions, among other things. So that's critical. And then gender based violence statistics. Gender based violence is incredibly corrosive to society. It has huge impacts and it takes a huge toll on the on the economy. But the data is so incomplete, that we can't really fully understand the impact of gender based violence and what we can do to address it without further investment in gender data around those issues.

Jill O'Donnell: That's a great summary key, there's so much so much to understand. We could do this for a year, probably every episode. You know, you mentioned the stakes and I want to address that as well, about what is at stake here and the gains that may be possible when efforts are successful to help women all over the world. I'm gonna quote again, from your excellent reports. And this was focused on the Asia Pacific, but still very large region of the world report notes that an estimated 4.5 trillion with a "t" would be added to Asia and the Pacific gross domestic product by 2025, by closing the gender disparities and economic opportunities, and that's just Asia. So tell us a little bit more about what the world stands to gain through a real commitment, when we get better data, and we're using it to; what do we stand to gain from successful efforts to help empower women all over the world?

Kate Francis: Yeah, this is where I'm just kind of still shocked by how far we still have to go on women's economic empowerment, because it's such a no brainer, you know, in addition to the to the quotes that that are the statistics that you just provided, the McKinsey report found that advancing women's equality writ large, not just women's economic empowerment, But Jen, but gender equality could add 12 trillion, a "t" to the global economy by 2025. And that's the worst-case scenario, the best case is $28 trillion. So, I personally see these issues from a human rights perspective, because I'm motivated by the belief that women in all their diversity as humans, as global citizens, should have the right to pursue their goals and achieve their potential and live fulfilling lives. But, you know, for those who need an economic incentive, the data could not be more clear that investing in gender equality will lead to sustained inclusive economic growth and social wellbeing so yeah, I just think it's a no brainer and I don't understand where we're where we're stalling and why we're stalling.

Jill O'Donnell: I was struck by that same point too about you know, stalling writ large because it's been a number of years since I was working with you with Asia Foundation and writing about some of these efforts and I find myself revisiting some of those same points and same lessons that I learned just by dipping my toe in the water on this here some number of years later and so at least what we can do is have these conversations and try to unpack this more and talk about this more for all of our listeners to understand better you. I'm also struck by you know, we're always talking about the stakes are often we hear I should say about the stakes in economic terms and $1 value, gross domestic product things we can measure economic arguments, but there is this entire you quality of life sort of factor, wellbeing factor, that is also as you said, a no brainer. It's also another measure of success, it's probably harder to capture with numbers, but equally, if not more important.

Let me bring this a little bit back toward trade, as we kind of conclude at least initial conversation here. The trade policy community is talking about this more where they really weren't, at least to this degree in in prior years. I wonder if you as an international development specialist and expert are starting to hear any more dialogue or see more connections beginning to emerge between the development community and the trade policymaking community? Are you seeing that at all right now?

Kate Francis: Yes, definitely. In fact, one of the other organizations I work with is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And one example that I heard on that side of my of my work is there's an Africa free trade agreement that's currently being developed by the African Union and I know that there's been a lot of talk about how women's organizations can weigh in, how key governments that are kind of feminist and orientation are trying to ensure that women's businesses are able to profit and benefit from regional trade more than they have in the past and, and kind of play a bigger role in the regional economy writ large. So I think that these conversations are definitely happening more and more, I think that there needs to be, I don't know, like gender experts do women's economic empowerment experts, and trade experts need to be in the same room more often. So that there can be better understanding, because I'm not an I'm not an expert in trade issues. And I feel like a fish out of water in a lot of ways in this in this field, but it is so adjacent and so related, but they you know, that seems like it's a bit siloed at this point, and should be, there should be a much more seamless conversation happening for sure.

Jill O'Donnell: So let's say you did find yourself in a room with a bunch of trade policymakers. And they wanted to get your thoughts on how maybe how they could think about designing free trade agreements or WTO rules better with women in mind. What would be your advice to them? If that that was the goal?

Kate Francis: With the huge caveat that this really isn't my area of focus and I feel like a fish out of water, in talking with friends who work on this issue, I think it's really critical for women's rights to be explicitly included in trade agreements. And so far, that hasn't been the case. So far, trade agreements, I think, rely on ILO standards of nondiscrimination to cover women's rights, and that addresses violence and harassment, and while that's important, it's only part of the story, as we've been talking about for the last few minutes. And more importantly, implementation is patchy at best. I'm not sure if there aren't any good examples of robust enforcement of those nondiscrimination clauses. I'm an optimistic person, so thinking pie in the sky, there should be special preferences to incentivize the involvement of women on businesses in trade. I understand that still very aspirational and not generally part of the discussion, but I think it would be great to have that be part of it. I will say too as another resource for your listeners, is I recently read an article that was really fascinating on this topic, it's called, "Can fashion ever be fair," and it's written by Bama Athreya, who is currently serving as a Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID but has been an incredible labor rights thought leader for decades. The article really highlights the ways in which the global apparel supply chains exploit the labor of black and brown women, and what can be done to make trade in the apparel sector more fair. I'm not even going to go into an analysis of the article. It's so complex, but so interesting, and really kind of a master class on kind of the history of what we're what we're facing here. It's really informative, and I highly recommend it just one piece of the trade puzzle from a from a gender perspective.

Jill O'Donnell: Thank you, Kate. We will definitely link to that as well in our show notes. You know, I usually wind up the podcast by asking the guest every guest "What is something you've read lately that was really striking to you something related to trade or global commerce?" It might be this article for you. Is there anything else that you want to add on that notes?

Kate Francis: Yeah, it's funny you should ask because I've been reading a very academic book that has stretched my comfort zone in a lot of reasons. Brought me right back to, you know, my grad school days. Definitely not like a beach read, but it's been totally fascinating. It's called the "Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems and Intersectional Political Economy," by Nancy Folbre who has been the leader in feminist political economy thinking. And so I'll just say that, definitely not for everybody, but I'm reading it as part of a very small feminist economist, book club of three people. We all kind of work in the same areas of study and we've had this opportunity to discuss this book in the context of our daily work. And it's just been really fascinating. And as you can tell, I really appreciate how Folbre puts unpaid care responsibilities at the center of her thesis, which, in my humble opinion, is exactly where it should be. I'm only halfway through, so I haven't gotten to her solutions yet. But I'll have to get back to you if I find any silver bullets and update you.

Jill O'Donnell: That would be terrific. I'd love to hear about that. Kate, thank you so much for being on this podcast. It was like I said, a goal of mine to talk more with you about all of this. And I really appreciate your emphasis throughout on asking the right questions. That's the approach I tried to take with the students that I work with and in my own work and trying to understand different things. Thank you for spending time on this podcast today, helping me think about how to ask better questions to understand women's economic empowerment, and I hope it's done the same for our listeners. So again, many thanks.

Kate Francis: Thanks so much, Jill. It has been an absolute delight to talk with you.