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 MSME FINANCE GAP from 2017). 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:


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

Businesses & Entrepreneurs

Find a concise overview of key aspects of international trade for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises with our Businesses & Entrepreneurs Guides.

Policymakers & Researchers

Find a concise overview of key aspects of trade and MSME-related policymaking with our dedicated library of Policymakers & Researchers Guides.