A year for women’s economic empowerment

5 May 2015
ITC News

This year is an important one for the global agenda on women’s economic empowerment: 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the defining policy framework and call to action to advance gender equality and women’s rights. And coupled with the post-2015 development agenda, we are in a perfect storm to place gender equality and women’s empowerment at the forefront of global development policy.

This year, we must address the gender imbalance that still remains. A recent report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, highlighted that only 2% of global aid for economic development explicitly targets gender equality. Given what we know about the impact of investing in women, it is clear that the global economy is doing itself a great disservice.

There continues to be growing recognition that in the economic and job creation arena women represent one of the last pillars of untapped potential. The transformative power of the billion-plus populations of China and India on the global economy is often mentioned, but less highlighted is the ‘third billion’ that is poised to make at least as great an economic contribution.

So what is this third billion? It suggests that, in the coming decade, one billion women around the world could enter the mainstream economy as producers, consumers, employees and entrepreneurs. Moreover, this third billion is unleashing huge investment opportunities that are being seized upon by some of the world’s leading corporations. For example, Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola and Google are among the companies that have established initiatives that promote women’s economic empowerment.

This is significant. Across the world, women stand on the verge of breaking out of subsistence economic activities and moving into more productive work ranging from agro-processing and manufacturing to healthcare; from media and information and communication technology to hospitality. Women are an important ingredient in harnessing the power of value addition that many developing countries need to climb the development ladder.

And by 2020, around 870 million of these women could already be making more meaningful contributions to global economic prosperity. In fact, the vast majority of these women – over 800 million – will come from emerging and developing countries. This represents an enormous, transformative force in regions such as Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) recognizes that investing in women is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. This year ITC will host the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum (WVEF) in São Paulo, Brazil, on 2-3 September 2015 together with Apex-Brasil. Preceding WVEF, on 1 September, our partners, representatives of government and multinationals, and academia, will gather for the annual Roundtable of the Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors, the initiative to improve women’s access to markets, including public procurement. Women-owned businesses currently account for a limited share of private sector procurement and an estimated 1% of government procurement. This small share is due to a number of unique disadvantages they face compared to their male counterparts, including lack of access to information on bids, lack of access to finance, unfamiliarity with tender procedures, and inability to meet the volumes required.

ITC will continue to urge more governments and corporations to empower women through procurement and provide concrete solutions to mitigate the constraints that women entrepreneurs currently face. It is not charity. It is about ensuring the rightful place of women entrepreneurs in our economies.

Of course, gender equality is needed across the board: in health, education, employment and politics. For ITC, the priority is to level the playing-field for women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. In doing so we are taking steps to ensure that more people have access to healthcare services, education and have decent jobs. And by ensuring a fair place for women in business, we help ensure that more people will be lifted out of poverty.