Supporting women’s economic empowerment

Supporting women’s economic empowerment

Making it easier for women to trade can help them control their economic resources and increase their ability to make decisions that benefit them, their families and their communities. Economic empowerment of women is vital if we want to set a path for inclusive growth that benefits all and creates more equal societies.

Generally speaking, trade can benefit women through employment and higher salaries. We know that exporting companies in developing countries employ more women than non-exporters[1], and jobs in export-oriented industries usually offer higher pay and better conditions than jobs in non-trading sectors. Therefore, reforms that promote trade can help support women’s economic empowerment.

Trade facilitation can help everyone to trade, but particularly women. Women find it more difficult than men to meet the high cost and time demands of complex trading requirements for several reasons. Firstly, women-owned businesses tend to be smaller than male-owned businesses[2], and so are less able to absorb extra costs. Secondly, women are often more time constrained because they tend to disproportionately bear household responsibilities. Finally, in some countries, women may be less able to navigate complicated processes because they may have had less training opportunities relative to men or have less access to information.[3] As a consequence, only 15% of exporting firms are currently led by women[4].

Gender-based discrimination may also discourage women from trading or make it more costly. For example, women are more likely than men to be asked to pay bribes[5] and to experience sexual harassment[6]. Research shows that women cross-border traders tend to face longer waiting times at borders – often overnight – which makes them vulnerable to sexual assault[7]. Not surprisingly, this type of gender-based discrimination can force women to use informal trading routes[8].

By helping women to trade, we are creating new employment opportunities for them. This is because women-owned exporting companies are major employers of women. In fact, research shows that the majority of employees are women in 40% of women-owned exporting companies but only 22% of men-owned exporting companies[9]. If trading processes can be made simpler and faster, women will be better able to meet regulations. And if processes can be automated and digitised and information made more widely available, women will be less vulnerable to gender-based discrimination.

Why it matters

Supporting gender equality makes both economic and social sense. Women participate in international trade as producers, entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers and contribute significantly to the economy[10]. Research indicates that there is a positive relationship between gender equality and economic competitiveness[11].

Economic empowerment also gives women greater control over decision making and their fertility, and allows them to play a more active role in shaping their communities. Women are more likely than men to use their income for their families. In fact, on average, women invest 90% of their income in their children’s education and health compared to 30-40% for men[12]. This goes to show that women empowerment tends to have wider positive social impacts, helping break poverty cycles and build more prosperous societies.

 

[1] WTO, 2017, Gender aware trade policy: A springboard for women’s economic empowerment.

[2] International Trade Center, 2015, Unlocking markets for women in trade.

[3] Asian Development Bank. 2019. Leveraging trade for women’s economic empowerment in the Pacific.   

[4] WTO, 2017, Gender aware trade policy: A springboard for women’s economic empowerment.

[5] International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, 2018, Women, migration, and cross-border trade in Africa.

[6] USAID, 2016, Women cross-border traders in Southern Africa.

[7] UNCTAD, 2019, Borderline: Women in informal cross-border trade in Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

[8] International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, 2018, Women, migration, and cross-border trade in Africa.

[9] International Trade Center, 2015, Unlocking markets for women in trade.

[10] International Trade Center, 2015, Unlocking markets for women in trade.

[11] International Trade Center, 2015, Unlocking markets for women in trade.

[12] International Trade Center, 2015, Unlocking markets for women in trade.