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    Women in the Global Economy(2)


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2004

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    Women entrepreneurs can be invisible to trade and development policy-makers.

    Many women entrepreneurs - whether they manage large, small or micro
    businesses - don't participate in the business circles that  decision-makers know and consult. A majority of women entrepreneurs are isolated in marginal economic areas such as micro and informal enterprises; in some countries, they account for up to 70% of such businesses.

    And trade organizations - ministries, chambers of commerce, export programmes, associations - don't reach out specifically to women, expecting women's organizations to bridge the gap. Existing export assistance, when available, may not come to their attention or match their needs. For example, many women entrepreneurs work in the services sector, while export assistance tends to focus on  trade in goods.

    Cultural traditions can also hold women back from playing a more prominent role in economic life. This can take the form of informal dissuasion from working outside the home or the laws in some countries, which forbid women from inheriting property and thus preclude them from any but the smallest business activities.

    While women in business face challenges common to all small firms - such as access to credit, contacts and training - their problems are magnified by lack of access to the networks that can help them compete in global business.

    Yet, ITC's experience shows that when women have the opportunity to develop their businesses, countries can benefit tremendously. Many women exporters are not just businesswomen, but "social entrepreneurs" as well. Through their experiences, they prove that a commitment to development goes hand-in-hand with their drive for export growth. It makes good business sense and good development sense to encourage women to build their businesses.


    • Networking. Target businesswomen's groups in membership drives for chambers of commerce, and trade and professional associations. Encourage networking between government officials, international experts and women entrepreneurs. Link groups of businesswomen to enhance communication and cooperation on trade issues.

    • Finance. Move beyond micro-credit. Encourage credit agencies to evaluate women exporters' credit risks appropriately, and train women to apply for credit.

    • Training. Inform women exporters about export training, and ensure they have access. Identify participants through businesswomen's associations.

    • Visibility. Publicize cases of successful women exporters. Develop awards programmes to encourage women who excel in international trade.
    • Social support. Evaluate gender-specific needs for trade-related support, from mobile health clinics to maternity leave and childcare.
    • Technology. Pool resources to integrate ICTs (information and communications technologies) to run businesses more efficiently and reach new markets.

    How ITC Can Help

    • ITC integrates women in trade development programmes and improves their access to trade support and business information. ITC invites businesswomen's associations (details of which it has gathered into a directory) to seminars on exporting services - boosting women's participation from 4% to 20%. ITC is providing its market analysis tools free, for a year, to the Organization of Women in International Trade, with training for national chapters.

      ITC's Executive Forum on National Export Strategies in 2004 is researching more systematic gender integration in export strategies. The Programme for Building African Capacity for Trade, with Canada's  Trade Facilitation Office, helps women's associations in sub-Saharan Africa to link to trade networks and gain skills in export management.

      ITC carries out gender assessments for projects, notably in the area of poverty reduction. ITC helps women entrepreneurs in the crafts, textiles and clothing, agro-business and services sectors to better exploit business opportunities using ICTs.

    • ITC raises awareness and challenges perceptions of businesswomen's role in economic and social development through publications and case studies specifically treating women's issues.