Identifying obstacles to trade faced by women

12 March 2015
ITC News

Across the world, women business owners are faced with non-tariff measures preventing them from expanding business. Palestinian women are no exception.

For several years, the International Trade Centre (ITC) has carried out surveys of non-tariff measures (NTM) to look at how and why businesses are prevented from fulfilling their trade potential. Moreover, these NTM surveys also provide an insight into gender differences between company ownership, employment in export sectors and the incidence and type of obstacles women-owned businesses face, compared with those run by men.

One recent example of a country where ITC has carried out a NTM survey is the State of Palestine, which highlights some of the gender disparities that such surveys unveil.


Company ownership and gender

In all countries surveyed by ITC, exporting businesses owned by a woman are the minority. This is no different in Palestine where 86% of the 239 surveyed companies are owned by men. Woman-owned businesses are rare, but are distributed across the different sectors.

However, the average number of employees of woman-owned companies is slightly higher than for man-owned companies (42 versus 40). This is largely down to three exceptionally large companies that are owned by a woman. In fact, only five companies have a workforce larger than 45. Excluding the three largest companies, the average number of people employed by woman-owned exporting firms drops to 21.

The survey data also provides an insight into the composition of exporting firms’ workforce and allows determining the female labour force participation in these companies. In Palestine, the share of women in the total number of employees of exporting firms is extremely low, with an overall average of 11.1%. The share is slightly higher for woman-owned companies (16.6%) than for their man-owned counterparts (10.2%), providing tentative support for the hypothesis that women are more likely than men to employ other women. In contrast, family or foreign ownership does not seem to affect Palestinian exporters’ share of female employees.

Most exporting businesses in Palestine – which make up 54% of companies – do not employ any women at all. This is somewhat remarkable as it stands in contrast with the other countries surveyed by ITC. At the same time, this is a mere reflection of the overall female participation in the labour force in the Palestine, which in 2011 stood at 16.6% and as such was lowest among all Arab countries.

As such, 84% of surveyed companies report the share of female workforce to be below 20%. For only 6% of companies it exceeds 50%. Many of these are in the textiles and clothing industry with some in wood, furniture and paper and agro-business and isolated cases in chemicals and handicrafts.

Generally, sector differences are quite pronounced. In metal and engineering as well as the plastics industry, all enterprises report a female workforce of less than 10%, with the vast majority not employing any women at all – in the stone and marble sector the female employee share does not exceed 15%. Pharmaceuticals, agro-business and textiles and clothing are the only three sectors where the majority of companies employ women (in the case of pharmaceuticals, it is all four companies).


Woman-owned companies and non-tariff measures

The survey reveals that 56.5% of Palestinian exporters are affected by burdensome NTMs or related trade obstacles. This corresponds roughly to the average rate that was found among the countries covered to date by the ITC programme on NTMs.

Affectedness varies depending on whether or not a company is owned by a woman. While the number of woman-owned companies in the survey is too small to make statistical inferences about affectedness and women ownership, the averages suggest that woman-owned businesses are more likely to be affected by burdensome NTMs than other companies: 73.5% of woman-owned firms report to face challenging NTMs, compared to 53.6% of businesses owned by men. This suggests that the share of affected firms that are woman-owned stands at 18.5%, more than double the share for those that report no challenges related to NTMs (8.7%).

Taking a closer look at the firms’ employees, it appears that the average share of female employees is slightly higher for affected firms (11.7%) than of those that perceive existing non-tariff measures as not challenging (10.3%).

Learn more about ITC’s surveys on non-tariff measures.