The playing field needs to be levelled for women around the world so they can fully seize the benefits of trade, according to World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo at the International Forum on Women and Trade in Brussels on June 20.
Azevêdo highlighted that tradable sectors are large sources of female employment, and that companies that export are often the largest employers of women in developing countries. For example, in Rwanda, 74% of those engaged in cross-border trade are women. In Cambodia, 86% of silk industry employees are women. In China, 55% of digital entrepreneurs are women.
DG Azevêdo argued that trade is an important promoter of women’s economic empowerment but that a range of barriers hamper their access to international markets and the opportunities they provide.
“The gender gap is great and a lot more needs to be done to close it,” DG Azevêdo said. He described some of the barriers which, he said, any inclusive trade policy should address. They include legal and regulatory barriers, access to capital, cultural barriers and the provision of training to build the necessary knowledge and skills.
He set out some specific trade policy actions which could help to deal with these problems, including helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to trade. SMEs are important job providers for women, and therefore steps to support SMEs could benefit women disproportionately. He also emphasized the importance of investing in data gathering about how trade impacts women. “There is not enough data at present to properly assess where the gaps are and how we can address them,” he said.
The Director-General concluded that this issue would benefit from greater focus at all levels – local, national, global. “If we want to change things, we all need to be engaged,” he added.
DG Azevêdo was joined in a panel discussion by Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Kenya; Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of International Trade, Canada; Jennifer Gallegos, Vice President of Development, International Women’s Coffee Alliance; and Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Founder, Women in Parliaments, who moderated the session.