Economic Empowerment of Women

9 April 2016
ITC News
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the BPW Asia-Pacific Conference
10 April 2016 - Auckland

Tihe mauri ora!

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e rau rangatira mā

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

I am delighted to be here today. I have travelled half way around the world to be here because the work that the Business and Professional Women do is not just important- It is critical. You are showing that women's economic empowerment is not a theoretical construct- it is not just an idea- it is reality and is a necessity if we are to have global inclusive and sustainable growth.

Economically empowering women matters for all of us. This is not a women's issue. This is a human issue and deserves the attention of every policy maker, business leader and civil society representative in every one of our societies.

At the international trade centre- the development agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation with a focus on small and medium sized enterprises, I see how empowering women and girls matters on the ground.

I see it in our work in Mongolia where we are working with a number of female Mongolian exporters of cashmere, wool and yak hair who sold up to US$ 50,000 in goods ITC worked with them on building quality and connecting the to market.

I see it work the silk producers in Cambodia where the women owned businesses and weavers in rural areas have developed business plans, increased exposure to markets and prepared new products and saw their income rise by up to 30%.

I see it in our work on ethical fashion on Nairobi where hundreds of women are for the first time receiving an income. And the impact of this on the societies is transformational. From greater investment in education and health to reduced instances of violence against women we are seeing how economically empowering women is having a cascading impact on the society.

In Papua New Guinea in our work with coffee growers we are seeing some women receive export licenses for the first time to export their coffee.

And behind these stories there are the individuals: there is Marey in Papua New Guinea; there is Awino in Kenya; there is Chanda in Cambodia; there is Badamkhand in Mongolia; there is Farhana in Bangladesh. There is Mafi in Ethiopia. And behind them are hundreds and sometimes thousands of women. Not to mention the impact they are playing on future generations as change agents.

This week as we discuss women's economic empowerment let's remember these names and that behind every policy, every decision we make- there is a woman with a name and with a story.

BPW International understands this. It has a remarkable history of advocating for women’s rights. Just a few weeks ago, I was at the United Nations in New York with members of your leadership. I was struck both by their advocacy and by BPW’s historical role in the establishment of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Since 1947, BPW International has used its consultative status to the United Nations to champion the interests of women in business and the professions.

For the International Trade Centre, BPW International has been an important partner in advancing women’s economic empowerment. In 2011, for example, BPW’s Mongolia chapter led a group of women entrepreneurs to Chongqing, China,for the first ever edition of what is now one of our flagship annual events, the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum.

The contacts they made there led to a project to enable Mongolian cashmere makers to develop their skills, create new products and sell into lucrative foreign markets. One of the women on that BPW delegation was Badamkhand Bataa, who heads Khatan Suljee, a mid-sized Mongolian firm dealing in cashmere, wool, and leather. The contacts and training have enabled her business to export to new markets.

This has in turn paid dividends for her staff – 95% of whom are women. In 2013 the company built a daycare for employees’ kids, together with skills training, housing loans, and even a beauty and health salon. And as they say 'the rest is HER story!

We hope to build on this history of partnerships with BPW chapters in Papua New Guinea, where we are working to boost export sales and incomes for bilum producers.

Another initiative on which ITC and BPW are collaborating closely is the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a UN initiative launched in 2010 that offers the private sector guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. By bringing together our respective comparative advantages – ITC’s trade expertise and BPW's network of women entrepreneurs - to help signatories to the principles deliver on their commitments to implement enterprise development, supply chain, and marketing practices that empower women.

Women's economic empowerment is both an explicit goal in the new United Nations global development agenda, and an essential means for achieving its broader objectives of poverty eradication and equitable, sustainable growth. At ITC, the economic empowerment of women is at the heart of our work. We believe that lasting social and economic progress is impossible unless women are economically empowered and socially respected. In the course of our work to connect women-owned businesses to international markets, we are constantly reminded that women’s empowerment and trade are mutually reinforcing – trade supports women to become empowered, and empowered women contribute disproportionately to the economy and society.

A growing body of evidence points to the potential gains from economic equality for women at every level: households, businesses, countries, and globally. Women in paid work spend far more of their income than men do on their families’ health and education. Companies with greater gender diversity in top management tend to outperform on profitability and market valuation. Countries that provide greater economic opportunities for women generally score higher in rankings of competitiveness and national income. And finally, the McKinsey Global Institute recently estimated that if women participated in the economy on an equal footing with men, it would add about $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025 – more than a 25% increase over current trends.

In spite of these potential gains, nearly a billion women around the globe are either prevented from becoming full economic actors, or lack the skills or capital to do so. These women have been called a ‘third billion’ who could follow China and India into the global economy, transforming their own lives and improving economic prospects for all of us.

The road ahead is long. ITC research shows that women, despite making up 40% of the workforce,own only one in five exporting companies. Studies suggest women-owned SMEs in emerging markets have unmet financing needs of between US$260 billion and US$320 billion a year. Women in developing economies are 20 percent less likely than men to even have a bank account. Women entrepreneurs often lack support networks and access to information about export opportunities.

ITC is working to change this. Last year, we launched the SheTrades initiative to provide a framework of collaboration for partners to scale up and accelerate the rate at which women entrepreneurs are able to fully participate in theglobal economy and use trade as a lever for economic resilience and transformation.

Women’s economic equality requires a complex ecosystem of support, from non-discriminatory laws to equal access to capital and business opportunities. That is why, last September, we issued a far-reaching Call to Action, setting out a framework for companies, governments, and other organisations to make specific, measurable pledges that contribute to the goal of connecting one million women entrepreneurs to markets by 2020.

The Call to Action rests on eight pillars we need to address in order to unlock markets for women and make growth more inclusive.

1. To collect, analyse and disseminate data on women’s economic participation.
2. To create trade policies and agreements thatenhance women’s participation in trade.
3. To empower women-owned businesses to participate in the US$10 trillion market in annual public procurement spending. Their current share is estimated at a mere 1 to 5%.
4. To create corporate procurement programmes that embed diversity and inclusion in value chains.
5. To set up mechanisms to certify ownership and eligibility of women-owned businesses.
6. To address supply side constraints that especially affect women-owned businesses.
7. To close the gap between men and women for access to financial services.
8. To ensure legislative and administrative reforms guarantee women’s rights to ownership and control over resources.

BPW International was one of the earliest supporters of the Call to Action. At the initiative’s launch in Sao Paulo, BPW pledged to build a global database of women entrepreneurs, to accelerate women’s engagement with international markets, and to advocate for gender diverse boards and better government procurement and corporate sourcing policies. ITC encourages your organisations to follow BPW International’s lead, sign up and spread the Call to Action across your respective networks. Whether it’s corporate sourcing, government procurement, bank lending, or data analysis – all of us have a part to play in lowering the barriers facing women-owned businesses in the world economy.

Technology can help lower these barriers in ways that were simply impossible only a few years ago. One example of this is our new web and mobile application, also called SheTrades, which provides women entrepreneurs across the globe a unique platform to connect to markets. Launched last December in partnership with Google, the Brazilian tech firm CI&T, and GreenBell Communications, a small woman-led Kenyan tech company, the app lets women-owned businesses showcase their goods and services, while prospective buyers can customise filters to identify appropriate suppliers.

In sum, the app is a tool for women entrepreneurs to share information, increase visibility, expand networks, forge connections and internationalise. Check out the app, either at shetrades.com or by downloading it from the Google Play Store on your smartphone or tablet. I especially urge those of you here who lead or represent businesses to join now and be part of the movement.

Another example of technology lowering hurdles to international markets is ITC’s e-learning programme, which offers a strong portfolio of online, interactive courses to allow women to upgrade knowledge in a time-efficient and flexible manner. Our SME Trade Academy’s courses cover some of the very challenges we have been talking about: access to finance, access to public procurement, access to information on supply chain management or cross-border contracts, and much more. Here too, I urge you to explore and spread the word about these useful courses.

Since brainstorming ideas and building market connections sometimes takes more than technology, five years on from Chongqing the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum is now firmly on ITC’s calendar. Having established itself as the premier global event for women entrepreneurs and companies committed to inclusive supply chains, this year’s edition will take place in Istanbul on 1-2 September, in partnership with KAGIDER, the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey.

If you’re a woman entrepreneur in the textiles and apparel, tourism or IT services sectors – this year’s priority sectors - there’s no better place to come to learn, connect with new partners and do business. If you are a company committed to a gender-inclusive supply chain, you are equally welcome. Do visit our website to find out more about the application process.

In closing, let me reiterate ITC’s wholehearted support for the work of BPW in promoting women’sentrepreneurship and economic empowerment. We are committed to putting our tools, networks, and projects in the service of achieving our common goals. We look forward to working together with BPW chapters in the Pacific region and beyond.

Thank you.