Building gender into international development goals

2 July 2012
ITC News

If you are in the business of poverty reduction, you have to believe in free trade. Trade is the engine of economic growth. It creates the wealth needed to build more schools, develop more health facilities and provide safe drinking water. The Government of the United Kingdom is committed to helping developing countries use trade to promote growth and development and lift more people out of poverty. Helping women to play a greater role in this process is a key part of our work.

Women already play a crucial role in economic production and trade — as workers, producers, entrepreneurs and cross-border traders. Eighty per cent of the world’s 50 million jobs in export processing zones are held by women, and women dominate the agricultural sector, producing more than half of the world’s foodstuffs.

But despite representing 40% of the global labour force, women own just 1% of the world’s wealth and only have a 10% share of global income. It is no wonder, then, that they account for 70% of the world’s poor.

Breaking down the barriers that prevent women from establishing their own businesses and gaining access to markets is one of the best investments British aid can make towards tackling poverty. When a woman generates her own income, she can, and generally does, re-invest her profits in ways that can drive long-term, inter-generational change: through the education of her children, health care for her family and improving the quality of her housing.

That is why, as part of wider efforts to place women at the heart of our development work, the Government of the United Kingdom is determined to give more of the world’s poorest women the tools and support they need to start a business and access markets to trade.

We see our longstanding relationship with the International Trade Centre (ITC) as crucial to our efforts to economically empower women — because of its ability to work at both the macro level, creating partnerships between women’s businesses in poor countries and major multinationals, and at the micro level, creating income opportunities for poor women through trade.

British aid has played its part in helping 7,000 women from some of the most marginalized communities in East Africa to get jobs through ITC’s Ethical Fashion Initiative, which enables international fashion companies to develop product lines that draw on skills and materials from Africa. This innovative project has led the way for others to enter the space where fashion, retail, trade and poverty reduction meet.

The government also supports ITC’s efforts to encourage Fortune 500 companies, governments and institutions to increase procurement from women vendors in poor countries. Those who sign up to the Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors project commit not only to sourcing more goods from women-owned businesses that offer competitive products and services, but also to promoting the benefits to other organizations.

The first Global Platform conference, held in Chongqing in September 2011, led directly to US$ 14.8 million worth of contracts for women entrepreneurs in developing countries.

These are just two examples of how we are specifically targeting British aid to support women and trade. Wherever possible, we ensure that all of our work on economic growth and the private sector benefits women and girls in developing countries.

Empowering women and girls has a multiplier effect on economic growth and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. The United Kingdom will remain committed to working with ITC and a range of other partners to ensure that, as developing countries play a larger role in world trade, the poorest women can be among the key actors.


The Government of the United Kingdom is ensuring all of its work on economic growth and the private sector
benefits women and girls in developing countries by: 

1.  Tackling barriers to trade

Last year, the Government of the United Kingdom launched a flagship trade programme, the Africa Free Trade Initiative, to help boost African trade through reduced bureaucracy, improved transport infrastructure and more efficient border crossings. Two million women traders and entrepreneurs in southern and eastern Africa will benefit from this initiative.

2.  Connecting women with global buyers

The United Kingdom is supporting a range of innovative programmes to connect small businesses in developing countries that often find it difficult to access overseas markets due to the small quantities they produce, with major global buyers. The Regional Trade Facilitation Programme, for example, helps smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, to sell their produce at a fair price in special buying centres, from where they are shipped off for export under the FAIRTRADE mark.

3.  Making cross-border trade more secure and efficient

A 2011 World Bank study on improving conditions for poor traders found that 85% of cross-border traders in the Great Lakes region of Africa are women, and that many routinely encounter violence, threats, demands for bribes and sexual harassment at border crossings. In response, the Government of the United Kingdom is supporting a World Bank pilot programme in the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The programme will create more open spaces and improve security at border crossings, train customs and security officials in professional border management, and build the capacity of traders’ associations.

4.  Supporting the poorest in global value chains

Multinational firms increasingly outsource production through global production networks, offering great prospects for trade, growth and employment in the world’s poorest countries. A large majority of the 18–20 million people employed in global value chains are women, particularly in sectors such as the clothing industry.

British aid is supporting vital research into the employment and well-being of workers and small producers in global value chains through the Capturing the Gains initiative. The initiative promotes policies that ensure poor workers and producers benefit socially and economically from their participation in global production networks.

5.  Improving conditions for women workers

The Government of the United Kingdom launched the Responsible and Accountable Garment Sector Challenge Fund (RAGS) to support companies, non-governmental organizations and trade unions that commit to demonstrating sustainable improvements in the working conditions of garment workers in countries supplying the United Kingdom market. RAGS is currently supporting 12 projects across Bangladesh, India and Nepal.