Connecting Global Trade, Gender and Anti-Racism: Q&A with Justine Namara



Although February is a concerted effort to remember significant people and events in African diasporic history, it also highlights the importance of ongoing discussion on the necessity of anti-racism.


In 2013, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared 2015–2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent, focusing on strengthening national, regional and international action to ensure that people of African descent have full rights. The central idea is to promote knowledge of various African heritages and cultures.


However, there must be national, regional and international legal frameworks to effectively implement these goals to eliminate racial discrimination. The main theme for this International Decade is to instil recognition, justice and development for people of African descent.


The UN provides a programme of activities to reach the goals for the International Decade at the national, regional and international levels. At the national level, it recommends countries implement anti-racist legal frameworks, policies and programmes.


Likewise, 8 March—the UN’s International Women’s Day—functions to do the same within discussions of gender.


Justine Namara, an international trade and development expert, currently serves as a special advisor for economic cooperation in the Pan-African Affairs Bureau at Global Affairs Canada. As a passionate advocate of inclusive trade, Namara volunteers her time in support of promoting women in international trade as a board director on the Toronto chapter of the Organization of Women in International Trade. She is also a board advisor at the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Advisory Committee, which seeks to advance the objectives of the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism.


In the past, Namara worked as a director at the Africa Trade Desk, managed partnerships, outreach and advocacy at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade programme in Switzerland, and worked as a legal trade and development specialist in Uganda.


The following responses were provided by Justine Namara in an interview with UNACTO on 28 February 2022 (edited for clarity and flow).


What does inclusive trade mean to you?


It means levelling the playing field and providing equal opportunities for underrepresented groups like women, and ensuring that the benefits and opportunities flowing from trade are more widely shared. It means ensuring no one is left behind.


My passion for inclusive trade stems from a very personal point of view. My first-hand experiences, both professionally and personally, showed me how empowering women to trade can build and boost livelihoods, change communities’ trajectories, empower families with resources and more. If my father, a businessman whom we lost quite early, had not supported and empowered my mother in business to trade, we would not be where we are as a family today.


How is gender related to trade?


In my past work, we used to say that if you empower a woman to trade, you feed a nation. Women are important drivers of economic growth, and advancing women’s equality can add USD 12 trillion to global growth. Yet women remain underrepresented in global trade and value chains.


Gender inequalities in international trade are often a result of structural differences and go beyond trade policy. In some countries, there are still legal barriers that prevent women from owning land and accessing finances, plus existing cultural biases.


How do you know when an anti-racism strategy is working?


Racism takes on different experiences depending on who one is, so anti-racist strategies should take on different approaches as well. Being anti-racist is not about who one is as a person; it is about what one does—it is a commitment to making equitable choices every day. These choices require ongoing self-reflection and self-awareness. One knows a strategy has worked when there is a shift in mindsets, especially where there have been challenges in the past. Allyship that centres people of colour, engaging and convening diverse voices, and having difficult conversations with a willingness/intention to build common ground, are all part of the strategy.


There are places where one can observe a slow shift, for example, in the news or media where people of colour are often depicted in a negative group identity. This creates and perpetuates stereotypes and prevents this group from being seen and valued for its own individual strengths and beliefs. As we move towards a point of inclusive storytelling, we should begin to see more stories that embrace individual stories and celebrate culture.


There has also been a lot of action on the economic front. Black and underrepresented communities face barriers to participation in employment and entrepreneurship, and data shows that these communities were hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic, either due to a lack of resources and networking opportunities or skill gaps. Continued and meaningful strategies that have a long-term impact in these communities will take the form of intentional funding and skills training suited to each diverse group.


These are some strategies that are making changes. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done and that is why there is a need for the work to continue beyond the Decade for People of African Descent.


What makes policy development successful?


I believe that successful policy development on anti-racism is really through engagement. But it is also necessary to apply an intersectional lens to shed light on how complex and multi-layered individual experiences are.


We need to convene, engage with and gain the perspectives of different groups and communities to design meaningful policies from which diverse groups can benefit. Understanding history and lived experiences is so important. We also need voices at the community level and non-profit, private, public and corporate sectors.


Although there have been significant efforts and progress in convening and having consultations with communities throughout the pandemic (and especially since the Black community has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic), we still have a long way to go in unlocking meaningful information from communities.


These consultations can also help decolonize some of the research that informs policy creation by moving it away from the narrative of the ‘other’ and building-in recommendations that are authentic and relevant to affected groups. It is a time-consuming process and there are no immediate solutions.


In our work at the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Advisory Committee, we consult with communities at the ground level to help develop tailored solutions for the Black community. We have developed a community-informed work plan that addresses the priorities identified by Black communities, and we are working to support its implementation.


What do you feel is the greatest hurdle to anti-racism policy? Why do you think this issue exists (and persists)?


One of the greatest hurdles is the lack of accountability and transparency. We need a tool that shines a light on deeply entrenched policy legacies, conventions and traditions that continue to ignore the priorities and wellbeing of racialized groups and create gaps in policymaking.


We need a human rights approach that identifies areas where racism and discrimination are still prominent in policymaking. Data and evidence are also important tools for understanding the impacts of policies and policy systems that exclude diverse groups.


I believe a combination of these tools for policymaking frameworks at any level can help move policymaking from a point of diversity to inclusion and equity. Only in this way can we improve the lives and livelihoods of people of African descent and other communities that have been historically overlooked.


How does the UN’s goal for the International Decade for People of African Descent to adopt anti-racist legal frameworks relate to your work with international trade, development and global trade policy?


I would like to believe that the International Decade relates to everyone’s work as it is a major humanity issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how globally interconnected we all are. This is an important advancement of human rights for people of African descent. The International Decade is a call to shared prosperity to improve and advance the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society. The UN’s establishment of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent is an important positive step towards its efforts to combat racism and racial discrimination in this International Decade for People of African Descent. This forum provides a platform for highlighting gaps and barriers in achieving development, recognition and justice for people of African descent.


This work also relates to the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which reinforce meaningful work to ensure equity and inclusion, the championing of equality, and the creation of a more equal and inclusive society. International trade, development and global trade policy should represent everyone.


What advice do you have for our readers about taking action towards anti-racism within their own communities?


I would begin by quoting the great Nelson Mandela; “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” (see Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela).


We are all born capable of loving without discrimination, irrespective of our skin colour, background or religion. It means that the fight against racism should start at the core foundation—our homes. Families should be able to teach their children from a very young age that everyone is equal. Education in the fight to dismantle racism is crucial—anti-racism education should be instilled in our school systems right from preschool. Schools should ensure that equal opportunities are afforded to all students and that there are strict deterrents against the discriminatory practices and behaviours that make students feel inferior or invisible. Workplaces should adopt stringent measures to address systemic inequalities, promote fairness, equality and diversity, and generally make workplaces more equitable. As a community, we should all take a conscious approach to building a legacy of meaningful inclusion and support inclusive, long-term prosperity for all.


How can we be more actively anti-racist in our daily lives?


To be anti-racist, one must commit to making unbiased choices and to being anti-racist in all aspects of life. It is like starting a new habit, exercise or routine—anti-racism requires a conscious decision to pursue it as a goal and way of being. Being intentional enables us to be careful of what we say and do. Setting the intention to have an open heart and open mind affects how one shows up. This opens the door to personal growth.


Above all, treating people with respect and love that honours their humanity is at the core of anti-racism.






Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha