WITA Webinars Emphasize Women in Trade for Women's History Month
Laura Lane, Chief Corporate Affairs, Communications and Sustainability Officer for the United Parcel Service (UPS), emphasized that women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of economic opportunities. The COVID-19 recovery should start by lifting up women—and in turn, those women will lift up their families, communities, and countries. This point was echoed by Livia Shmavonian, Senior Advisor in the Office of U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). She cited data from the International Monetary Fund demonstrating that when the gender gap in employment opportunities is closed, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) increases by 35%, on average. In addition, countries in which women are more empowered also have higher levels of peace and prosperity, according to data from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Women are an integral part of the global trade system and their inclusion—or lack thereof—directly impacts global prosperity.
Despite this, women face barriers to their inclusion in trade. Data from WITA shows that as a global average, women have only 75% of the legal rights accorded to men, and 40% of countries have laws constraining women’s participation in the labor force. Laws concerning divorce, inheritance, owning land, and opening a bank account all affect women’s ability to participate in the economy. Half a billion women and girls are illiterate, and only 39% of girls living in rural areas attend secondary school. Shmavonian noted that these numbers mean “many women lose the game before they even start to play it.”
There are concrete steps that governments and institutions can take to address the barriers that women face. Nicole Bivens Collinson, President of International Trade and Government Relations at Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg P.A., identified four factors where governments and institutions can assist women: access to networks, access to wealth, leadership in the country, and partnerships with the private sector. Women-owned businesses should be given greater visibility to customers and potential trading partners, and organizations can assist women in making these connections. Pamela Rosemarie Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), discussed several programs and services that are available specifically to aid women entrepreneurs in accessing these networks. One initiative is SheTrades.com, a platform which allows women-owned businesses, organizations, and companies to connect, sell products and services, learn new skills through free webinars and courses, and participate in workshops, trade fairs, and other business events. The initiative aims to connect three million women to market by 2021.
Access to wealth is another prominent issue that women entrepreneurs face. In many countries, it is difficult for women to access credit to open businesses. Governments can mitigate this initial hurdle by dedicating capital specifically to women-led companies. Beth Roberts, Director of the Center for Women’s Land Rights, emphasized that land ownership is fundamental to economic investment and opportunity. She noted that including specific language about women’s land rights in trade agreements would be a prodigious way to reform the issue of land ownership. Private-public partnerships are vital as well, and Coke-Hamilton noted that UPS has been an incredible partner of the ITC SheTrades initiative.
For a full list of panelists and to watch the webinars, visit WITA’s event library.