Launch of SheTrades initiative in Nigeria

14 July 2016
ITC News
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the launch of SheTrades initiative in Nigeria
13 July 2016 - Abuja, Nigeria

Honourable Ministers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is pleasure to be here today and i want to commend the government of Nigeria and the NEPC for having taken the initiative and the lead in supporting the ITC SheTrades initiative. It is an incredibly important signal that is being sent to women AND men entrepreneurs in Nigeria that the country wants to support women as economic change agents.

Today we focus on partnering on better integrating women into the economic fabric of Nigeria through connecting them to global trade. Women are the backbone of practically all economies. But in Nigeria I can safely say, women are at the very heart of the economic life of the country- especially the informal economy. I could think of no better place to launch SheTrades Africa.

Allow me to share with you this morning a few important points on how, through expanding women’s economic opportunities, we can achieve sustainable development and to talk a bit about what we have done and can do – as individuals and together – in order to empower women and positively impact the society so that no one is left behind.

Nigeria is a global economic powerhouse- and not just in Africa. When Nigeria speaks, we listen. And when Nigeria makes a commitment to women like it has today, the impact is far reaching. The Nigerian government has done an impressive job over the years in empowering women. This is reflected in Nigeria’s National Gender Policy which focuses on women empowerment while also making a commitment to eliminate discriminatory practices that are harmful to women.

Notwithstanding, we see that Nigerian women as well as their counterparts around the world continue to face significant challenges.

To make this more tangible, let me present you some numbers:

Nigeria has significantly increased rates of female labour force participation. However, still only 48% percent of women participate in the labour market, compared to 64% of men. Likewise, women earn only 58% of what men earn. Equal pay for equal work!

Gender disparity also prevails when it comes to access to resources for business start-ups and expansion. Women entrepreneurs in Nigeria still face difficulties in getting credit and loans and women’s businesses have fewer employees and shorter business longevity than their male counterparts. This is not a 'Nigeria issue'- it is a global issue!

According to the African Development Bank, Nigerian women supply approximately 70% of agricultural labour; 50% of animal husbandry related activities and 60% of food processing – yet they have access to only 20% of available agricultural resources.

Moreover, in many occupations such as mining and construction, women are not allowed to work in the same way as men do. In fact, all over the world, persistent gender-based employment segregation traps women in low-productivity, low-paying jobs. This segregation is often explained by differences in productivity. This is fiction! To give an example, findings indicate that gender differences in agricultural productivity diminish considerably when access to and use of productive inputs are taken into account. In the case of Nigeria, differences even disappear when women and men have equal access to inputs.

But why then, do we see this employment segregation?

Let me elaborate on three main reasons:

First, due to social norms, women bear a disproportionate share of house and care responsibilities and are thus less flexible in terms of working hours etc. This in turn results in barriers to market work for women, particularly in formal wage jobs, which mostly require fixed schedules and minimum working hours.

Second, female farmers and entrepreneurs often have less access to productive inputs such as land and credit than their male counterparts. This is likely to lead to gender differences in terms of scale of production, productivity, and investment and growth capacity.

Third, women’s limited presence in certain markets may create barriers to knowledge about their own performance, which in turn reinforces their lack of access to these markets. Additionally, the design and functioning of institutions may be biased against women in ways that preserve existing inequalities.

Breaking out of this trap requires interventions that lift time constraints, increase access to productive inputs among women, and correct market and institutional failures. It has little to I with 'being a woman' and much more to do with the inherent biases that women are made to confront every day in every country across this world.

Despite that, women continue to constitute a major segment of the informal economy in Nigeria. Employment opportunities in the formal sector are often denied to women because of family responsibilities, lack of skills, social and cultural barriers – the informal sector is often the only possibility for women to get access to employment and to earn an income. As such, they do not enjoy income security, health and other social benefits available.

Women in Nigeria and around the world also face many legal and political barriers. For instance, the Nigerian law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value. Let's work together to change this. Let us make Nigeria an example in this area.

Similarly, it does not mandate non-discrimination based on gender in hiring and mothers are not guaranteed an equivalent position after maternity leave (WB, 2016). Likewise, evidence indicates that there is still room for improvement in terms of political empowerment for women. In 2014 women constituted only 25% of ministerial positions and only 7% of people in parliament.

But does all of this really matter? Yes!

Findings suggest that on a global level, women tend to reinvest around 90% of their income at home, improving their family’s health, education and well-being. By contrast, only 40% of men reinvest their earnings into their families. This tendency, if sustained, can help break intergenerational cycles of poverty and boost economic growth.

In addition to that, economically empowered women improve the situation of their counterparts as they tend to employ other women and persons of the most vulnerable groups of society.

There is no doubt that empowering women is the right thing to do. It leads to faster economic growth and positive social change, which in turn positively affects the well-being of a country’s society. In fact, progressing women’s equality could add up to USD 28 trillion to global GDP by 2025 enabling economies to unlock their full potential.

Simply put: when women are better off, the world is better off.

Based on this presumption, 193 countries have included gender equality as a core element of the newly adopted U.N. 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Consequently, women’s empowerment is crucial for the achievement of the SDGs, in particular goal 5 and 8, which aim to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls as well as attain inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all respectively.

In line with the SDGs and in response to the prevailing challenges that women entrepreneurs face in many countries, the ITC launched the SheTrades initiative, a Call to Action that aims to connect one million female entrepreneurs to market by 2020.

In order to help connect women to markets, the Call to Action is accompanied by an online platform and a mobile application – developed by a women-owned company from Kenya – which allows women by registering their businesses to build a network through which they can combine expertise and resources and to connect to larger companies looking to source specific goods and services from women-owned businesses. Essentially SheTrades is a global connector that responds directly to a need for buyers to find women-owned businesses.

ITC’s work is based on the premise that trade can be a powerful lever for economic resilience and transformation when women have the opportunity to fully participate. It is in this context that the ITC is pleased to initiate together with the Nigerian government and in cooperation with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) other stakeholders have decided to initiate this partnership. By committing to bring 100,000 women in Nigeria to market, this partnership is a great way to mobilise the political support and resources and to get a step closer to total gender parity.

Working closer together with partners and institutions is the only way that will allow us to deliver positive change, leaving no one behind.

I thank you for your attention.