Trade Forum Features

We are all women!

7 March 2016
ITC News

We are all women’. That is a bold headline to open this new issue of International Trade Forum which for the first time features contributions only from women.

What do I mean when I say ‘we are all women’? Essentially I am suggesting that the struggle for gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ but a human issue – it is an inalienable human right. And all of us – no matter the gender, race, religion, country of origin or political affiliation – have to work towards ensuring that the economic empowerment of women becomes a reality.

As head of the International Trade Centre (ITC), I have the enormous good fortune of meeting many inspiring people from around the world. I have met many women leaders and CEOs of businesses. I have visited the factories and companies of womenowned enterprises. I have visited the farms of women working in the field to grow our food. I have launched mobile apps developed by young female entrepreneurs and attended fashion shows with clothing from young female designers. These women, and their teams, have all been inspiring. This issue of Trade Forum – is dedicated to them.

From the Third Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa to the Sustainable Development Summit in New York, the conference on climate change in Paris and the WTO Trade Ministerial in Kenya, women played a crucial role last year in securing agreement on which direction we want the world to go. Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to empower all women and girls – is an important new milestone that we have to coalesce around. The ITC did its part by convening women trailblazers for several of its 2015 events, most notably for the Women Vendors Forum in São Paulo and the International Forum on Women in Business in Nairobi, where policymakers – women and men alike – met women entrepreneurs to talk business and do business.

ITC’s focus on businesses owned and run by women is a deliberate one. While businesses that trade across borders tend to be more productive, more profitable and employ more people than their domestically-focused counterparts, ITC surveys in developing countries suggest only about one-fifth of firms that engage in trade are led by women. This is unfortunate because ownership matters: firms owned by women employ more women at senior levels and mentor more women at the entry level. But it’s not just about ownership. Paid work for women yields social dividends that last for generations, not least because women invest far more of their income than men do in their families’ health and education.

Calling for something to happen requires more than words. We need data and the ability to analyse how to overcome obstacles faced by women entrepreneurs seeking to trade goods and services. Women entrepreneurs and their companies – big or small – need support to become part of global trade.

It was in response to these challenges and others that in 2015 ITC launched the SheTrades initiative to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020 (pages 24 and 25). We launched an app, built by a young Kenyan female entrepreneur – that allows women to register their businesses and connect to larger companies looking to source specific goods and services from women owned businesses. This is part of a greater effort under the SheTrades initiative to build a network through which women entrepreneurs can connect with each other and build a larger and more sustainable business portfolio.

The successful effort by the Turkish presidency of the Group of 20 to establish the Women 20 further underlines the increased importance that the world’s biggest economies are placing on the inclusion of women in the economy: from finance to IT, from civil society to trade. This importance is entirely justified. The International Labour Organization estimates that some 865 million women could be contributing more robustly to the world economy were they allowed or trained to do so. But there is much work to still do. A recent World Bank survey found that 155 countries still had at least one formal law impeding women’s economic opportunities. Women face genderbased job restrictions in 100 countries, often confining them to low-paying activities, more often than not in the informal sector.

We are on the right track. Empowering women is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do economically, socially and politically. After all ‘we are all women’.