Trade and Gender
There is a growing body of research showing that while international trade can be important for business development, innovation, and resilience, there is a need for trade to become more inclusive. Barriers exist not just for MSMEs to trade, but also more specifically for women traders and entrepreneurs, complicating their efforts at realizing the benefits of trade’s economic opportunities. Trade can foster women’s economic empowerment and advance gender equality. Governments can make this possible through the development and implementation of gender-responsive trade policies, as well as by implementing the WTO Agreements with a gender lens. Trade policy can support women entrepreneurs by lifting the many additional obstacles they face through financial and non-financial incentives, government procurement, or capacity building in trade.
Why MSMEs and Gender?
Women entrepreneurs constitute a significant share of MSMEs globally. They represent about 30% to 37% (8–10 million) of all MSMEs in emerging markets (see IFC brief from 2011). In Nigeria, women represent 41% of micro-business owners, with 23 million female entrepreneurs operating in the country. Nigeria has one of the highest female entrepreneurship rates globally (the PWC report can be found here).
Women entrepreneurs mostly own, and lead, micro enterprises and they are typically smaller than men-owned, or led, firms. For instance, in Canada, 92.7% of women-owned firms employ less than 20 staff members (the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada report can be found here). Their micro size makes competing in the international market very difficult and it is one of the many reasons why they are not integrated in the global market (See Unlocking Markets for Women to Trade for more information).
Women entrepreneurs not only face the same trade challenges as MSMEs, such as relatively higher cost burdens imposed by non-tariff measures and customs procedures, they can also face additional barriers and trade costs such as legal prohibitions to economic participation, additional discrimination for access to finance, and unequal access to the digital economy due to the persisting gender digital divide.
Where can policymakers access more resources?
For more resources on trade and gender, please see:
- The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) women and trade website contains information on relevant resources and events, as well as a link to the WTO informal working group on trade and gender webpage. Published in 2020, a World Trade Organization and World Bank report, Women and Trade: The role of trade in promoting gender equality, looks at the role of trade in promoting gender equality and provides new information and data on this important topic. Other papers of interest are: Women’s economic empowerment: an inherent part of Aid for Trade “; Gender Provisions in African Trade Agreements: Assessment of the Commitments for Reconciling Women’s Empowerment and Global Trade ; and Trade Policies Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment: Trends in WTO Members.
- The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) women and trade webpage links to resources including the ITC’s SheTrades initiative, which is a platform for women-owned businesses, organizations, and companies to connect, access workshops, and find suppliers. The ITC also issued a publication in 2020 on Mainstreaming Gender in Free Trade Agreements, among other relevant reports.
- The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also has a trade and gender webpage with related research and publications on ways trade can contribute to women’s economic empowerment.
- The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) provides a webpage on gender equality, its importance for sustainable development, and the role for trade. This webpage features all recent publications, projects, and events on the subject.
- The World Bank’s trade and gender webpage is another resource linking to relevant publications and upcoming events on women and trade.
Where can policymakers access good practices or national examples?
The WTO Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender has prepared a progress report outlining the technical work that WTO Members and Observers have undertaken on women’s economic empowerment. It can be accessed at the WTO website