Standards as a vehicle for women’s economic empowerment

9 March 2015
ITC News

Applying voluntary standards can open doors to new markets and help overcome obstacles faced by women exporters.

Can standards be used to promote inclusiveness and to include women in international supply chains? Through awareness building and through applying the right policies, they can.

Women’s economic empowerment is central to all of ITC’s work in developing countries, especially since gender equality plays a key role in economic growth and increased competitiveness. And, according to the World Bank, close to 40% of small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries are owned by women.

However, several obstacles prevent women from participating more fully in international exports. One major obstacle, for example, is the lack of awareness about specific requirements that products need to comply with to be exported to a foreign market.

Obviously, all obstacles are not women-related. Moreover, it was in response to the need for better information on standards and schemes requested by target markets that ITC’s Trade for Sustainable Development (T4SD) programme was launched in 2009. As part of this, ITC developed Standards Map, a web-based database, which gives access to more than 160 voluntary standards promoting sustainable trade practices.

Among the standards available on the Standards Map database, 34% cover gender-related issues. These are primarily standards related to agricultural and textile products that address set out gender requirements that companies need to comply with in order to get their products certified. As such, complying with one of those standards might facilitate market access for a company, but it would also mean that they are contributing to improve the situation of women in their sector.

Building awareness

Whereas ITC is not verifying that a certified company actually stick to its commitments, the T4SD programme works to build awareness among women (and men) to ensure that know about the requirements they have to abide by to export their products.

An example of the T4SD programme’s work on bringing SMEs into international supply chains and promoting sustainable values – including the gender-related issues – is the development of a customized self-assessment tool for producers of agricultural products that supply to large companies such as Nestlé, Unilever, Illy and others: the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) tool.

Developed for the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative – SAI Platform, the main food and drinks industry initiative supporting the development of sustainable agriculture worldwide, the FSA is a global supply chain tool for farmers to assess their sustainable agriculture practices and communicate the assessment to their food and drinks industry customers. The FSA tool includes requirements related to gender policies and women rights at work, as well as equal remuneration (based on Convention 100 of the International Labour Organization) that the companies need to comply with to become suppliers for SAI members.

So far, almost 100 producers and companies have assessed themselves against the FSA requirements using the online tool. And in doing so, they ensure that they realize not only the value of standards, but also of gender equality, if they want to be accepted as possible suppliers.

Learn more about Standards Map.

Learn more about the T4SD Principles: Sustainability, Transparency, Harmonization, Sustainable Development Goals.