ITC Shares

Pressing for progress with SheTrades

7 mars 2018
Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Centre

This is an incredible time for women’s empowerment. The movement to ensure equality for women and girls is influencing all facets of our daily lives. And trade is no exception. Still, there is much left to do if we are to attain Goal 5 – empower all women and girls – of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Trade does not have a gender: it does have a gender impact and is not always gender neutral. This is why ITC launched the SheTrades initiative: to empower women economically through greater integration in trade and investment, and to connect one million women to market by 2020. Through partnerships, collaboration and shared commitments, women entrepreneurs are enabled to produce, scale up and trade.

A significant proportion of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) around the world are owned by women. In developing countries around 36% of MSMEs are partially or fully owned by women. While this is encouraging, the share of womenowned companies participating in international trade stands at a more modest 20%.

An estimated one billion women are not able to fully participate in the economy. This has to do with multiple reasons that can and should be tackled, from lack of education or training for women and girls, to financial and legal constraints. As pointed out by the International Telecommunication Union, more than 250 million fewer women than men have access to the online world. This is alarming, especially since the economy of the 21st century will be very much technologically and digitally driven.

However, there is hope. Last year we witnessed three moments that I believe will prove a sea change to the rhetoric and policymaking for women in trade.

The first was the inclusion of gender chapters in international trade agreements. This initiative, pioneered by Uruguay and Chile at the end of 2016, was replicated by Canada and Chile, which last year signed a free-trade agreement with a dedicated chapter on trade and gender.

The second was the adoption by the G20 in Germany – on the proposal of the Women20 – of a set of commitments to address the gender digital, labour and financial gaps. The German G20 presidency can be proud. For the first time in G20 history, Women20 representatives attended the meetings of top government officials resulting in an exchange on how world leaders could increase women’s participation in the global economy.

The third big moment of 2017 was the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment, which was supported by more than 120 members and observers of the World Trade Organization (WTO) during its Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. ITC is proud to have co-led this initiative with the Governments of Iceland and Sierra Leone under the auspices of the International Gender Champions.

Over the next two years, stakeholders will exchange knowledge and share best practices to help connect more women entrepreneurs to international trade. It will enable the next WTO Ministerial Conference, in 2019, to set a clearer direction on how to craft trade policies that benefit women – and men.

What matters more, though, is what happens on the ground. Through SheTrades we are seeing the impact from more women entering international trade.

In Kenya, a partnership with Barclays Bank has helped to provide $3 million worth of capital to more than 200 women-owned enterprises. Meanwhile, eBay has provided free online shopfront access to dozens of selected women-owned companies.

SheTrades is also about Phyllis, an online florist in Kenya who, with ITC support, created Tandao Commerce, an e-commerce platform that is now revolutionizing online trading in Africa. And there is Charitha from Sri Lanka, who set up a sustainable, luxury eco-tourism resort and is now closing business deals with international travel agencies.

These are just of few success stories among countless of successful women entrepreneurs making a change for themselves and on society.

ITC is committed to women’s economic empowerment. I invite you all to do the same. Big steps. Small steps. Be a champion. Be a mentor. Share your knowledge. Create opportunities. Be part of the movement.