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    Women in the Global Economy


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

    It's a charged topic: many Trade Forum readers will come to it with a firm opinion, based on their own life experiences. Some of us believe that no differences exist between men and women in international business, some champion 'empowerment' at every opportunity, while others espouse the many shades of grey between these two


    More and more women are entering the workforce, and their role as business owners is growing. In Canada, for example, the number of women entrepreneurs has increased 200% in the past 20 years. In Cameroon, women manage 57% of small and micro businesses. As economic actors in all countries, they produce goods and services, provide employment, and are also growing consumers of business goods and services themselves.

    Yet overall, women are still firmly in the minority as business owners or managers. Fewer still are also exporters. Finding documented  experiences of women exporters is difficult. Most information sources  on the subject, particularly those that are the easiest to find, are long on wish lists, but short on concrete examples and recommendations specifically related to trade development.

    Do businesswomen face extra difficulties in expanding their business through exports because they are women? This is the fundamental question that societies need to answer and agree on in order to speed up change.

    For all small businesses, access to finance, market information and training is critical. Women exporters, however, have less access to trade support networks than many of their male counterparts.

    Also, the type of assistance they need may differ. To cite one example: most women-owned businesses are in the services sector, and an important way to expand such businesses is by mastering skills in networking, in order to build a client referral base. Thus export development programmes aimed at women need to put a special emphasis on services skills as part of their overall package.

    With examples from South Africa, India, Nepal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Canada and Uganda, what we've found is that women in trade are improving their lives, those of their employees, their families and their communities. The potential exists for many more such cases that contribute to sustainable economic development and the reduction of poverty.

    Ultimately, many issues are cultural, and experiences are surprisingly similar in many countries. The Canadian report outlining the findings of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs is notable for the striking similarity to issues faced in developing countries. "The differences are just a matter of degree," says a main contributor to the report.

    As women on Trade Forum's editorial staff, we've wanted to  explore and report on this issue for some time. We first consulted the ITC group on Gender and Trade Development, made up of staff members who exchange views on women, trade and development. Then we conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed many reports before compiling a list of international activities in this area and selecting the business cases and country reports that are highlighted in this issue of Trade Forum. Although the information is by no means exhaustive, we hope to have taken a useful step forward in the debate on women and trade development, by providing recommendations, contacts or concepts that can be used in training courses, promotional events or national trade development programmes.

    On a different topic, we've shared your feedback to the textiles article in our trade talks issue (2-03). We have also reported on the reactions of business communities in developing countries to the Cancún Ministerial Conference.

    Finally, 2004 marks ITC's (and Trade Forum magazine's) 40th anniversary. We've outlined our planned programme of activities in this issue. During this anniversary year we hope to give you the opportunity to learn more about us at ITC - who we are, what we do - and for us to learn about you, your needs and how we can work together. As a start, read about our photo contest and send us your photos!