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    Helping Women Export Services


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2003

    Outsourcing business support services, coupled with e-trade possibilities, offers increased opportunities for women in developing and transition economies to export services.

    Women are generally known as owners of small retail operations or active in the types of services (nursing, teaching, secretarial services, domestic services) traditionally seen as 'women's work'. Less visible is their growing role as principals in firms that provide professional, financial and construction services. Service industries offer women the opportunity to establish businesses which need relatively little capital and which have, with the advent of the Internet, the potential to be operated from a home base.

    But women business owners continue to be less involved in export activities than their male counterparts. In large part this is due to time and resource constraints because of women's 'double burden' in virtually all societies. Even if women do not have childcare responsibilities, cultural mores usually dictate that they run households, care for ageing or disabled relatives and volunteer in their communities - in addition to engaging in paid work.

    To have more successful women exporters will require a six-pronged approach.

    Access to markets

    Success in services exporting depends on developing networks of referral contacts and potential foreign partners, typically through travel to international markets. Women report that finding the time and resources for travel is a major constraint on their exporting activities.

    Access to trade development activities

    Women are underrepresented in workshops and trade missions intended to help firms export. This is, in part, due to time constraints, but also to a lack of knowledge of what assistance is available. Unless special gender initiatives are undertaken, women are often not members of the sponsoring bodies for trade-related events (e.g., chambers of commerce and industry).

    Access to technology

    Access to cost-efficient, high-speed Internet connections is critical for exporting success. Women business owners often face difficulties in gaining additional phone lines for Internet hook-up, especially if they are located outside the main urban areas.

    Access to education and training

    In some cultures, the education and training of women still take second place to that of men. Existing training programmes need to be examined to make sure that there are no gender biases in recruitment and delivery.

    Access to finance

    While most service firms are not capital intensive, women business owners do need access to finance for the purchase of information and communications technology, for growth and for export market development. Research shows that women generally have to use their personal resources, which limits potential export growth. Options, such as microcredit schemes, have often been designed for commodity or handicraft producers and need to be repositioned for service firms.

    Access to role models

    Most fundamentally, many young girls do not have role models of women entrepreneurs, especially in services. Success stories of women who own service businesses and export need to be publicized widely.

    Dorothy Riddle heads Service-Growth Consultants and can be reached at driddle@compuserve.com