REMARKS BY THE ITC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT (en)
Mesdames et Messieurs,
Permettez-moi tout d’abord de vous remercier pour cette occasion de m’adresser à vous. En ma qualité de Directrice exécutive du Centre du commerce international, c’est avec plaisir que je voudrais vous parler de ses travaux et en particulier de ses activités en matière d’émancipation économique des femmes.
In five words, the ITC may be summarized as the “one-stop shop for SMEs”. Back in 1964, some 50 years ago, ITC was created in response to a call from developing countries for practical hands-on technical information, advice and assistance to help them, firstly, to take advantage of the market opening being negotiated within the GATT (now WTO) multilateral system and, secondly, to use these expanded trade opportunities to help reduce poverty and achieve other UN-mandated development goals. This is why even today ITC’s core budget support comes in equal shares from the WTO and the UN. ITC was born out of the realization that trade opportunities do not necessarily lead to trade on the ground, unless a number of market failures are addressed, in particular those affecting the poorest.
Because we are 300 staff, mostly based in Geneva, our business model is lean and dynamic, incorporating strategically located project offices; local and regional consultants; in-country sector and other business support associations; national trade and investment promotion organizations, regional economic bodies; and governmental policymakers.
Over the past 50 years, and with support from partners like Canada, ITC experts and our collaborators on the ground have succeeded in developing holistic horizontal and vertical value chain approaches and solutions that support SME competitiveness and boost SME internationalization in developing countries.
Horizontally, we support SMEs in different ways, from helping them connect to buyers, to equipping them with the tools to self-assess their compliance with the voluntary standards that have become so critical to accessing markets.
Vertically, we leverage our expertise in products and services to unlock technical barriers and improve trade performance in sectors that countries and regions have deemed to be priorities.
To maximize the social returns on our investments in helping SMEs connect to markets, we have maintained an operational focus on supporting marginalized groups – ranging from women, to youth, to the poorest communities, and now to refugees.
Today, in light of the recent celebration of International Women’s Day and the 20th year since the signing of the UN’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on gender equality, I will tell you a short story that illustrates how ITC is making a difference by economically empowering women entrepreneurs.
This story starts in Africa’s largest urban slum – Kibera in Nairobi – where women, supported by the ITC, learned how to transform their skills with textiles and clothing into economic gains which saw many women being able to send their children to school, purchase new homes and still have enough to start savings account. Because ITC focuses on giving business advice and technical training that is driven by the demands of buyers – in this case, buyers at the high end of the global fashion market – the women were engaged in business deals which used their skills in a way they never imagined. It is this type of transformation that ITC initiatives seek to achieve. With this transformative approach comes transformative results.
Through this particular programme, which operates in several other poor communities and 7000 women in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana and more recently Palestine and Haiti, new jobs have been created and sustained. Skilled workers who supervise, quality control and stitch saw an average salary rise of 275%; semi-skilled and manual workers who cut, fold and pack saw an increase of 500%; women have reported an increased ability to finance their children’s education, better diets and healthcare for their families; purchase or make improvements to their homes; and/or start savings. Moreover, on my own visits to these women, they told me about the positive changes in the way that their male partners and children view them, leading to fewer incidents of domestic violence. This initiative Ethical Fashion - Not charity, just work - has given the women their dignity back.
The story shows that through private sector market engagement and through development aid to finance support to addressing market failures there can indeed be tangible change that benefits all, including the most marginalized. This story talks about one initiative in one sector. There are many other stories like this one across the regions – some of which are described in the ITC’s recent impact stories publication which may be found at the back of the room or on our website.
Admittedly, the challenge of transformation is formidable, and is not for the faint hearted or the short-sighted. In today’s world, women comprise about 70% of the world’s poor; 80% of the world’s refugees and 64% of the world’s illiterate adults. Women comprise an average of 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries yet less than 20% of landowners are women. Only about 47% of women have access to a formal financial institutions and saving mechanisms compared to the 55% of men with bank accounts. And almost 90% of 143 economies have at least one legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunities. In a very specific example, ITC recently launched initiative to boost government procurement from women-owned businesses, governments worldwide spend US$ 11 trillion a year on public procurement, yet only an estimated 1% of procurement contracts are won by companies owned and controlled by women.
These statistics are more than just numbers. They are the narrative to the same story of why private sector engagement and development aid are essential ingredients for transformation, and why in particular, women in business require targeted support. Not only is there a need, there is a public good, for supporting women economic empowerment.
What is this public good? Women reinvest up to the majority of their earned income in their families and communities as compared to 40% in the case of men. In a study of 61 countries, the UN found a strong positive correlation between economic growth and women’s participation in the labour force. Women’s economic empowerment helps with trade too: a 1% increase in the share of exports in developing countries is associated with a 0.2% increase in female employment outside the agriculture sector. Just as compelling is the fact that there are close to 1 billion women who, if equipped with the required skills and education, will make meaningful and transformational contributions to economic prosperity – kind of like adding another China or India to the world economy.
It is difficult to ignore the public good gain potential. Women’s economic empowerment is very much the yeast that, if smartly handled, will give rise to the kind of world we all want to live in.
At ITC, promoting and mainstreaming women’s economic empowerment is one of the core pillars of our work. At the macro and meso levels, ITC supports policymakers and business support institutions on how to use trade data to understand issues and constraints faced by women traders to support their decision-making through the use of business intelligence and needs assessments of women-owned export businesses. ITC also strengthens women business associations through networking platforms and by promoting greater engagement in mainstream processes.
One ITC approach is gender sensitive national export strategies. It is about supporting the integration of developing countries into value chains in a manner that is supportive of gender economic inclusiveness.
These macro and meso-level policies and types of support are not on their own enough. Without a comprehensive package of support at the micro level, it is conceivable that more women could have jobs, but with bad working conditions and persistent inequalities. In light of these risks, ITC’s Women and Trade programme and other initiatives also provide mentoring, training and buyer-seller matchmaking directly to women-owned SMEs. The direct assistance seeks to expand market access opportunities which in turn expand opportunities for their own business generation and more decent jobs.
Mentoring and training women entrepreneurs play an instrumental role at the micro level. Thanks to Canadian support, we have developed a successful mentoring programme called the ACCESS! Programme for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa. ACCESS! has opened the door for hundreds of African businesswomen to trade in a range of sectors thanks to over twenty training modules covering value addition, branding, marketing, packaging and other key aspects of international trade; a business competitiveness counselling programme; a market access component; and a trade information web portal.
ITC also actively facilitates buyer-seller engagement and capacity building for women-owned SMEs. We help to identify market opportunities and build related supply side capacity, creating an understanding of international commercial practices and opportunities. This work takes the form of the Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors, which is an ITC-led network convening partners who purchase billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services annually from our network of over 30,000 business and professional women. ITC has been successful in brokering partnerships through the Platform. Last year alone, in Rwanda, the Platform generated over 5 million dollars in business interest for women entrepreneurs.
In August this year ITC will host the Platform in Brazil. I would welcome opportunities to partner with you on this. Companies are seeking ways to source specifically from women and I invite you to encourage the business associations that you work with to engage Canadian companies as buyers in the Global Platform so that we can tackle gender inequality and promote women’s economic empowerment together. The Global Platform is a call for action to do good while doing business.
On a final note, I would like to end with how ITC as a global citizen is itself is engaging in the issue of women’s empowerment both at home in Geneva and in New York where the post-2015 development agenda is being discussed.
Within ITC, we have taken a number of steps to promote gender balance and women advancement in the workplace. We have established Gender Focal Points and have been implementing a Gender Mainstreaming Policy since 2011. Since then ITC’s strategic framework and performance indicators are sex disaggregated; all ITC programme staff have been trained on mainstreaming gender into ITC projects and programmes; office templates and processes have been modified to ensure gender mainstreaming in project document, technical workshops and job descriptions. ITC has also achieved gender parity in staffing with 54% of overall ITC staff members being women.
In our advocacy role, ITC has been actively engaging in the promotion of women’s economic rights. Call to Action initiatives such as the Government Procurement from women-owned businesses together with flagship events such as the Women Vendors and Exhibition Forum place the focus squarely on women economic empowerment. ITC’s public statements and technical inputs to the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations’ Technical Support Team to the Open Working Group have also been important in raising the importance given to the economic aspect of women’s empowerment and the need for gender-disaggregated data.
Mesdames et Messieurs, nous nous devons de générer d’autres exemples qui démontrent, non seulement, le point auquel l’émancipation économique des femmes est indispensable à un développement durable et à la création d’emplois, mais qui démontrent aussi comment ces résultats peuvent s’obtenir. L’ITC, grâce à l’appui de partenaires engagés, tels que le Canada, se promet d’œuvrer afin que ces succès se perpétuent dans le futur.
Merci de votre attention.