SheTrades Kenya
Expert views

Women: The spark for global trade

5 December 2022
Marco Forgione, Director General, Institute of Export & International Trade, United Kingdom

Why women entrepreneurs can provide the spark to revitalize global trade



You cannot talk about the history of human progress without mentioning international trade. It is a unique system for the transfer of knowledge around the world. It has the power to not just deliver commercial benefits but to transform lives, communities, and nations.


According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the liberalization of global trade helped to lift a billion people out of poverty. Yet there is still so much more trade can do to break down barriers and increase prosperity, particularly during a period of slowing global economic growth.

SheTrades Nigeria

Breaking down trade barriers for women

“International trade is a predominantly male-dominated sector,” said the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Pamela Coke-Hamilton, at the WTO Public Forum in September. She is correct. If you are a woman trying to trade internationally, in many areas of the world you face systemic biases, including challenges accessing finance and logistics.

Pamela also said we need to work harder to break down these barriers and this we wholeheartedly support. It is brilliant that the WTO, ITC and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have women as leaders, but this is only a start. Statistically there are still far fewer women in senior positions in international trade than men.

We need to support women to fill senior roles through targeted skills-building programmes and proactive recruitment practices.

The impact of this will be considerable, helping more women to access roles throughout all sectors involved in the international supply chain.

Men have a role to play in this too. We need to be full partners in ensuring women can achieve their potential. I have seen first-hand the impact of supporting women to do this.

The Institute of Export & International Trade brought four women entrepreneurs of the ITC SheTrades initiative to the WTO Public Forum in Geneva – from Bangladesh, Rwanda, Mexico and Uruguay.

They each had incredible stories to tell, which we were honoured to share with policymakers and business leaders in Geneva. We need to build on initiatives like these to increase the visibility of other inspirational entrepreneurs around the world.

WTO Public Forum 2022
WTO Public Forum 2022
WTO Public Forum 2022 session on breaking down barriers in male-dominated sectors; here with a contribution from Mexico

How? International policies and education

Policies at the national and international level will have a key role to play in addressing trade barriers for women entrepreneurs. We are delighted that the United Kingdom has included chapters on gender in its trade deal negotiations.

And education is of the utmost importance. We have seen through our partnership with ITC how capacity building programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria have helped entrepreneurs in these countries access international markets. We need to make sure these programmes are accessible to female leaders and expand them into more countries.

SheTrades Kenya

Progress for all

A lot of the progress sparked by trade has been achieved while half of our global population has been excluded from reaching their full potential. Imagine what we could do if 100% of the human population – which has just passed eight billion – could access the opportunities of international trade, no matter who they are.

Women-led businesses make a disproportionately positive impact on their local community, helping tackle exclusion, deprivation and inequality.

It is time to start building this future because we need to draw on all the skills and talent available to meet the challenges that we are facing.