Statement of ITC Executive Director at the signing MoU ceremony with the Sharjah Business Women Council (en)
Your Excellency Ameera BinKaram, Chairperson of SBWC
Dear SBWC Board members
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour for me to be in Sharjah to sign this Memorandum of understanding with the Sharjah Business Women Council on behalf of the International Trade Centre (ITC). This MOU is more than just a document. It is a 'contract' that will guide our partnership to support economic empowerment and social involvement of women in the Emirates and in the wider Arab region.
The ITC experience shows that unlocking the economic potential of SMEs, particularly women-owned SMEs is not only important, but is an a critical component of achieving sustainable human and economic development. And I am not just saying this because I am a woman. The evidence speaks to the way that women reinvest their earnings back into businesses and into the community.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The partnership between ITC and SBWC comes at an opportune time. Even though Arab business women are on the rise, based on the study conducted by the New Arab Women Forum, women in the Arab world are still facing many challenges. While Arab woman are more educated, more empowered and more engaged in a whole spectrum of political, social and business activities, they only make up 28% of the active workforce, making it the lowest rate in any region in the world.
Similarly and based on the latest Millennium Development Goals report, female unemployment remains high in the Arab region standing at around 19% whereas the world average was only 6.2% in 2011. Similarly, Women hold less than 20% of paid jobs outside the agricultural sector, and this share has been decreasing in the last 20 years, while in the rest of the world it has increased to reach 40%. Finally the share of Arab women in vulnerable employment is the highest in the world and has increased in recent decades because of political instability, conflicts and displaced population.
The partnership with SBWC will bring new opportunities and mechanisms to address some of these issues.
At the ITC gender issues are mainstreamed throughout our programmes. We also have two particular programmes specifically focused on women's economic empowerment.
The ITC experience with the Ethical Fashion Initiative and the Women and Trade programme demonstrate that by supporting innovation and opportunities in the fashion industry in the arts and craft, we can create a space for women to be active members of our economies. By providing a platform for artisans and designers from developing countries to meet and interact with buyers in the fashion industry we are helping to build relationships- economic relationships- which can support these artisans to expand the reach of their products, their designs and more importantly, their stories.
Even though the ideas and the capacity exist amongst the talented artisans and entrepreneurs in developing countries, there is a need to bring them closer to the market. It is about building skills and knowledge to understand what the markets want, exploit the opportunities, expand their consumer base, and generate more jobs and revenue in their home country.
Through fashion we support local skills, cultures and livelihoods and link these small women producers to the market. We are doing this in Papua New Guinea, in Ghana, in Kenya, in Haiti, in India, in Peru, in Ethiopia, in Burkina Faso, in Palestine. And with our collaboration we hope to develop a similar programme in the UAE through the SBWC.
We work with local support institutions, such as SBWC, to act as multipliers and ensure value addition is retained in-country. Together we will help transform business ideas into realities. An output into opportunities.
The IRTHI ('my heritage') umbrella programme, developed by SBWC, focuses on offering women in the craft sector new opportunities to structure and grow their business while respecting fair labour standards, sustainability and artisanal traditions. This helps revive traditional skills and customary crafts that are disappearing because they are not seen as profitable by the young generation. Linking these women with the fashion industry can change the lives of families and communities. We know that it improves education of children, well-being of families, but most importantly decent jobs give women dignity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Women's economic empowerment is central to achieving the world we all want – one where all women truly benefit from economic opportunities. A few weeks ago in Kigali at ITC's World Export Development Forum we launched an initiative to "Empowering Women through Public Procurement" – the aim of which is to increase the share of women-owned small and medium businesses benefiting from public procurement contracts. I urge SBWC to take this initiative to your policy makers. It is yet another avenue to raising the economic participation of women in the global economy. I encourage you to be inspired by what you see and I challenge you to engage in making it come true.
I look forward to working closely with SBWC to develop and implement new projects that economically empower Arab women.
I thank you