Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum opening speech

23 February 2017
ITC News
Opening speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum
Istanbul - 23 February 2017

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good morning to you all. Welcome to this 5th edition of the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum, ITC’s flagship event on women’s economic empowerment.

Let me start by thanking our co-hosts, KAGIDER, the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey, and the Turkish Ministry of the Economy, for their partnership in convening this important forum.

Istanbul is a fitting host for this gathering. Not just because it is a crossroads of trade, of history, and of cultures, but because women’s rights and gender equality have been of importance in this country since the foundation of the Republic nearly a century ago.

More recently, in 2011, Turkey became the first country to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention against Domestic Violence, which happens to be named the Istanbul Convention. We commend the efforts that Turkey has made in committing to this and other international efforts to promote gender equality.

Unleashing the power of female entrepreneurship is also a vital dimension of gender equality and one which can have a dramatic effect on a country’s economy. The current body of research documents that if all countries match the progress toward gender parity of the fastest-improving country in their region, this would add as much as $12 trillion in annual 2025 GDP. If Turkey increased women’s participation in the labour force from the current 30% to the OECD average of 63%, it could increase its GDP by 20% above current trends by 2025.

The business case for women’s economic empowerment is compelling and becomes even more important when we consider that women who experience expanding economic opportunities reinvest in education, health and other related poverty-reducing priorities at a rate of 90% compared to men who only do so at 40%. This is why empowering women is at the heart of the United Nations Global Goals.

This is why ITC works to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs, by making sure they can access the trade intelligence, institutional support, and connections they need to do business across borders. We devote particular attention to identifying and tackling the obstacles facing these women entrepreneurs in the world economy.

While mapping the barriers to women’s economic empowerment, two things became clear. One, that achieving gender equality requires a combination of government policy, private sector action, and social change. And two, that silos continue to separate these actors and policy realms, making concerted, mutually reinforcing action difficult.

To break down these silos, and create an enabling ecosystem for women to start and scale up businesses through trade, ITC launched the SheTrades initiative in Sao Paulo at the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in 2015. SheTrades was the product of months of consultations with stakeholders around the world. Its core goal is to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020.

To this end, governments, companies, trade and investment support institutions, researchers, and other civil society groups are called upon to expand opportunities for women entrepreneurs in international markets, SheTrades urges them to make specific, actionable pledges:

1. To collect, analyse and disseminate data on women’s participation in the economy;

2. To develop trade policies and agreements that enhance women’s participation in trade. For example, we now have the ground-breaking trade agreement signed last year by Chile and Uruguay which has a chapter on gender recognizing that enhanced opportunities for women to trade would contribute to broader economic growth in their countries, and establishes a gender committee to oversee women’s empowerment.

3. To empower women-owned businesses to participate in public procurement spending. Which in the case of Chile has taken the form of a National Action Plan, which is already being met with success, to ensure that women had the same opportunities as men as suppliers to the State.

4. To create corporate procurement programmes that embed diversity and inclusion in value chains - companies such as IKEA, Nestle and Accenture have introduced women-inclusive procurement policies.

5. To address supply-side constraints that especially affect women-owned businesses;

6. To close the gap between men and women for accessing financial services – a challenge which cripples many women-owned businesses including in Turkey where only about 27% of women are reported as having a personal bank account; and

7. To ensure legislative and administrative reforms guarantee women’s rights to ownership and control over resources.

These goals can only be achieved through partnerships – a network that we hope will expand further this week. Organisations such as Barclays Bank Kenya, the Nigeria Export Promotion Council, the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, World Trade Centre Mumbai, Pro Cordoba, and Apex Brasil are just a handful of the partners with which we are working to promote women’s economic empowerment through trade. If we take our partners’ commitments together, they add up to pledges to connect over 800,000 women so far. With your support and expanded partnership we could reach the 1 million target in 2017 and scale up our ambition.

These pledges can make a real difference to women entrepreneurs’ prospects and their livelihoods. We have seen first-hand how access to capital would make it possible for a Nairobi fashion designer to scale up production and reach customers from Johannesburg to New York. We have seen how a connection to international customers made it possible for a women-owned Rwandan cooperative to double the price it gets for the coffee it grows.
We have seen how well-targeted training helped a Mongolian cashmere producer reach the quality levels she needed to sell to international buyers. And we know it’s not just Akinyi in Kenya, Laetitia in Rwanda, and Badamkhand in Mongolia who benefit: the women, men, and children behind them, in their families, their businesses, and communities benefit, too.

SheTrades is as much about advocacy and policy solutions as it is about building practical business skills and connections. That’s why a big part of these two days will consist of buyer mentor group sessions for SMEs from the tourism, textiles and garments, and ICT and business services sectors to receive mentoring from sector specialists.

At previous editions of the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum, in Brazil, Rwanda, Mexico and China, B2B sessions catalyzed more than $50 million worth of letters of intent to do business, and mobilized over 100 partners to create women’s economic empowerment initiatives in support of the SheTrades initiative. In Istanbul, over these two days, we also look to increase the exposure to businesses here as well as to make some real business connections.

In closing, let me once again salute KAGIDER for its work to support Turkish women entrepreneurs and for its steadfast backing of SheTrades. Thank you for partnering with ITC to host the Istanbul edition of the Women Vendors and Exhibition Forum 2017.