ISLAMABAD, Jan 15 (IPS) – The World Economic Forum is hosting world leaders in Davos from January 15-19 2024. One of the key themes for the forum this year is “Creating Growth and Jobs for a New Era” with a focus on creating economic gender parity.
The World Economic Forum states that “The potential gains from closing economic gender gaps could unlock a “gender dividend” of $172 trillion for the global economy while closing the gender investment gap could add $3 trillion to assets under management in the US alone.” World Trade Organization (WTO) estimates that eliminating gender discrimination would lead to a 40% increase in productivity.
Trade has remained a significant contributor towards increasing the economic stature of countries. Historically the trade has been observed through the gender neutral lens by practitioners and researchers.
However, in recent times, trade and gender links have been explored and efforts have been made to strengthen by international organizations including the World Economic Forum, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, International Labor Organization (ILO),International Finance Corporation, and World Bank among others.
Trade openness has been shown to have a positive impact on employment, wages, and very importantly the overall export performance of the country. Several studies have shown that both technological and non-technological innovations improve a country’s export performance. Gender inclusion remains an important non-technological innovative measure enhancing export performance.
Women in developing countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have long been involved in the agriculture and textile sector.
Recently women’s participation in the ICT and service industry has also gained momentum in developing countries. It is, however, important to note that South Asia remains second lowest at 63.4% out of eight regions at the gender parity index 2023. Although its position improved by 1.1 percent from the year 2022 attributed to rising scores in countries like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh; there is much to be done.
Women entrepreneurs are a very small portion of the export profile for developing countries. In a country like the United States that remains Pakistan’s biggest trade partner in textiles and related goods share of women exporters from Pakistan is minimal.
Trade development authority in Pakistan and Trade promotion bodies in developing countries have focused on improving women entrepreneurs’ participation in international trade through training and resources.
However, women’s participation in the trade shows even in the traditionally established Textile and Apparel sector that provide major access to industry buyers in the USA remains negligible for countries like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh; all of which are very well established and reputed in the USA market hence lowered entry barriers for women.
Less visibility of women entrepreneurs in the export sectors especially for developing countries tied to the fact that women and men have unequal access to education, productive resources, transport, networks, and other resources that impact economic activity.
This in turn affects women’s ability to capture trade-related opportunities. General trade barriers such as deficient infrastructure and tiresome regulatory and documentation requirements also impact women more than men.
Evidence also suggests that women entrepreneurs are concentrated in relatively less profitable sectors and even in profitable sectors they lag behind men-owned businesses.
Women-led businesses also lack resources to expand into international markets and when they do they have relatively smaller trade volumes and higher trade costs making businesses less able to sustain losses in the short term. This chain translates into limited mobility to trade and has been one of the reasons that woman-led businesses got impacted worse during post COVID-19 crisis.
Several steps can be taken at the domestic and international markets to help women entrepreneurs reach their maximum potential in exportable sectors in trade.
Gender provisions in the trade policy and trade agreements are one of the most important steps. The WTO Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic 2017 endorsed by 127 countries is seen as important towards women’s economic participation in the economies and international trade.
Some regional and bilateral trade agreements like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and USMCA (United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement) are now actively adding gender language and provisions. Canada has been a pioneer in including gender chapters in its trade agreements, such as the one with the European Union (CETA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
These chapters typically address topics like equal access to economic opportunities, fair treatment in the workplace, and support for women entrepreneurs. These examples can be emulated widely in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements further translating into gender provisions in the trade policy at the local level.
Enhancing the role of women in export sectors where women’s presence is already established can be very helpful. In the case of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, women are involved in farming and livestock management.
Facilitations for easy access to training, credit, and improved participation opportunities in agricultural extension services can encourage women’s participation in international trade. Both financial institutions and the private sector should be engaged in this agenda. Private –Public partnerships to ensure investment in export-oriented sectors to strengthen women-led small and medium-sized businesses need prioritization.
Women who have access to technology are more likely to participate in international trade. Access to technology gives women the opportunity to sidestep issues of restriction of mobility and overcome cultural barriers while providing equal opportunities to connect with consumers and buyers of their businesses. Studies have shown that access to phones and the Internet has improved incomes and economic opportunities for women in Pakistan, India, Bolivia, Egypt, and Kenya among others.
Country trade missions at embassies and consulates abroad must ensure that women are included in awareness webinars/ seminars conducted by trade offices of their countries abroad. These trade offices are also central facilitation centers for connecting exporters with buyers and managing Trade show participation. Increasing participation in trade shows, trade delegations and awareness of the importing country regulations/requirements will enhance women exporters’ opportunities to find business abroad.
The world needs to pay more attention to women’s inclusion in trade. Trade has been shown not only to reduce the economy but also the gender gap. The world needs equitable and inclusive prosperity through gender-inclusive steps on the economic and social front alike.
Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner currently working as a Trade Diplomat for Pakistan on the West Coast USA. She has extensively worked in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender-inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow. Follow her on Twitter, @moodee_q.
© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service