IWD 2019: Why is trade facilitation important for women and gender equality?

Why is trade facilitation important for women and gender equality? Monity Odera, a publisher in Kenya shares her perspective.

Many women currently stand on the side-lines of the global economy. Women already make a huge contribution to global prosperity and exclusion of women prevents the world from reaping the full benefits of global trade. According to the University of Barcelona if all women are excluded from the labour force income per capita is reduced by almost 40%. It is estimated that between 30% and 40% of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) worldwide are owned by women, although figures vary considerably across regions. Yet only 20% of exporting firms are led by women. How do we liberate that potential? What additional barriers do women face when it comes to trading internationally?

The answer is, of course, hugely complex, and there are many legal, social, economic and structural factors that determine whether women take part in global trade. However, we do know that women often face higher levels of discrimination and longer waiting times at borders than men and are therefore more likely to avoid official border crossings. In addition, trade policies and procedures are not effectively communicated or fully understood by small traders who are mostly women. This is where trade facilitation comes in.

Trade facilitation is all about simplifying and streamlining the processes we use to move goods across borders. In many cases, this means introducing automation and digital processes which can mean traders have to travel less and spend less time at the border – cutting the potential for gender-based discrimination. Trade facilitation is also particularly beneficial for SMEs by whom the burden of bureaucracy and delays are more keenly felt.
We spoke to Monity Odera about her experiences as a woman trader in Kenya and why she thinks trade facilitation is important for business.

“Storymoja was started to get people reading. We want to ensure every child has access to books – children should read at least 50 books a year. We are now at the stage in which we would like to begin exporting the books we publish. We are hopeful that there will be no barriers to reaching our global audience.

“In October 2018 I attended the 18th annual world conference of the Organisation of Women in International Trade (OWIT), a non-profit professional organisation that supports the advancement of women in international business, in Nairobi, Kenya. It was the first time the event had been held on African soil, where women start more businesses than men but bring in less revenue because they do not get the opportunities to take their businesses to the global marketplace.

“There are many opportunities for women to trade internationally, but I think that most women are not aware of them. I registered for the conference with the aim of networking with women all over the globe. As I left my house, I wondered, can Storymoja go global?

“I met and networked with women from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Canada, Dominican Republic and the USA. We shared our contacts, experiences, best practices, failures, and successes. We agreed on areas of collaboration and we made deals.

“As a publisher who wants to expand by exporting my products internationally, the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, along with the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, is a hugely important instrument in helping me realise the business’ potential. Reducing the formal and informal barriers to trade will help more women like me trade globally.

“The mantra of the conference organisers was that no woman should be left behind, and I for one will not be left behind. The conference changed my mindset – nothing should stop Storymoja from reaching new shores. And as the business goes global, I know that quality will sell the books and we will not be held back.”

Find out what the Alliance is doing to support TFA implementation in Kenya.