Mainstreaming gender in trade policy: The APEC Gender Inclusion Guidelines

29 October 2018
  • The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum’s recent experience in incorporating gender considerations into its operations provides insight into how multilateral organisations can concretely move the gender and trade agenda forward.
  • The APEC Gender Inclusion Guidelines indicate how gender-responsive approaches can be integrated into APEC fora strategic and work plans, annual reports, and projects. They complement the principles outlined in the 1999 Framework for the Integration of Women in APEC.


The Asia-Pacific is a vibrant region that continues to experience robust economic growth. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an inter-governmental forum for 21 Pacific Rim member economies, promotes trade throughout the region. APEC’s recent experience in incorporating gender considerations into its operations provides insight into how multilateral organizations can concretely move the gender and trade agenda forward.

There are approximately 600 million women in the APEC labour force, with over 60 per cent of women engaged in the formal sector. Gender inclusion is hence an important priority for APEC, which has been seeking greater integration and empowerment of women in the region since the first APEC High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy was held in San Francisco in 2011. To promote women’s economic inclusion, APEC recognises five pillars: access to capital and assets; access to markets; skills, capacity building, and health; leadership, voice, and agency; and innovation and technology.

The forum also maintains an APEC Women and the Economy Dashboard, a set of 75 indicators which show the status of women in APEC economies. But progress has remained slow and more needs to be done to achieve full integration of women in APEC.  

As part of a strategic initiative of the Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy Working Group (PPWE), new gender inclusion guidelines were introduced last year to promote gender integration across APEC. The APEC Gender Inclusion Guidelines, known as the GIG, were designed to strengthen gender inclusion in APEC and support APEC fora, committees, and overseers of APEC projects to promote gender-responsive policies and activities. The intention was to not reinvent the wheel by designing completely new guidelines, but rather to integrate prevailing gender criteria, build on existing data sources, and reinforce existing accountability mechanisms. The GIG can also be applied on the economy level to help members achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 targets on gender equality.

Containing practical tools and directives, the main aim of the GIG is to address gender disparities − such as income, skills, jobs, and access to opportunities − so that they may be recognised, understood, and systematically taken into account in the formulation and implementation of gender-responsive policies and activities.

Of particular interest in the GIG is the introduction of so-called gender markers, adapted from the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Model for Gender Marking as a significant yet easy gender inclusion measurement tool that can be applied across APEC’s work. Based on a simple 1-3 scale (1. no gender element, 2. limited gender element, 3. effective gender mainstreaming) the codes identify whether or not a project is designed well enough to ensure that women/girls and men/boys benefit equally or will advance gender equality in other ways. A “state of gender inclusion” framework is on offer with the objective of self-assessing and improving genders markers over time and attaining the highest possible level of gender inclusion across APEC.

Research and data are increasingly recognised as important tools to inform decision-making. Building on the principles outlined in the 1999 Framework for the Integration of Women in APEC, the GIG calls for gender analysis, the collection of sex-disaggregated data and accountability in all processes and activities. Users are encouraged to share cross-fora research and contribute data to the APEC Women and the Economy Dashboard. Documenting and sharing good practices on gender-inclusive policies, initiatives, and projects ensures that the GIG remains a dynamic tool to be adapted for efficacy until it becomes obsolete.  

While several APEC fora are actively designing gender-responsive initiatives in areas such as cross-border trade, human resource development, telecommunication, and transportation, measuring the use and impact of the GIG is challenging, since its application is voluntary. These types of initiatives generally require further resourcing and (both male and female) champions to socialise and embed them so they can make a substantial impact on gender integration and parity. Gender championing of the GIG would help to increase gender compliance, strengthen institutional capacity to implement change, and enhance APEC economies’ achievements towards SDG 5.

Inclusion is the engine of growth in APEC. Left unaddressed, exclusion of disadvantaged groups can be costly and the costs – whether social, political, or economic – are likely to be substantial. Propagating “gender neutral” approaches unintentionally supports exclusionary practices that undermine GDP growth.

Implementing an initiative such as the GIG lays the groundwork for policies and programmes to have a positive impact for both women and men, without inadvertently jeopardising the interests of one group while advancing those of the other. It provides governments and organisations with an effective gender analysis tool, generating knowledge on how to address persistent cultural barriers and unblocking the way forward towards gender equality.

Moving gender inclusion centre stage requires appropriate resourcing in tandem with inclusive evaluation methods, which not only generate data on how many more women may have participated in a program or panel, entered into business or leadership positions, but also capture how processes and power structures are changing and transforming multilateral organisations and society as a whole.


Patrice Braun is Adjunct Professor, Research and Innovation, Federation University Australia.