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From the margins to the centre: Women's Economic Empowerment through Trade

Geneva, 28 September 2016


A strong all-female panel engaged in lively discussions on how to enhance women's economic empowerment through trade and how to bring women's work from the margins to the mainstream in an event organized by the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) at the WTO Public Forum.


Opening the session and setting the stage for the discussions, Mr Ratnakar Adhikari, the Executive Director of the Executive Secretariat for the EIF, highlighted some of the many challenges that women face while trading and elaborated on the meaning of women's empowerment as reflected in the recently published Report of the UN Secretary-General's High‑Level Panel on Women's Economic Empowerment entitled "Leave No One behind: A call to action for gender equality and women's economic empowerment".


"Expanding women's economic opportunities is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For far too long, women have not been recognized as major economic actors," Mr Adhikari said, adding that "in most of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), they have been excluded from taking advantage of the vast economic opportunities, of seizing the chance to support themselves through work enterprises and from shaping and controlling their own future and having their own voice."


Taking over the session, the moderator, H.E. Mrs Yvette Stevens, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Sierra Leone in Geneva, also highlighted the challenges that women face in the LDCs and invited the panel to tackle and address the challenges and look into ways to accelerate progress and to mobilize the global community to expand women's economic opportunities. "Today, we will see how the EIF programme – a programme dedicated to building trade‑related capacity in all of the LDCs – is aiming at expanding women's economic opportunities in the LDCs in a bid to achieve inclusive trade," she said.


H.E. Ms Aya Thiam Diallo, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Mali in Geneva, made a presentation on behalf of Ms Coulibaly Aïssata Touré, a mango exporter and manager of the Société de Valorisation des Fruits (SOVAFY) and President of the Network of Women Economic Operators (RFOE) of Mali. H.E. Ms Diallo highlighted that women in West Africa were now active in the trade and processing sectors through support received from capacity building and training, which were vital elements for enhancing women's skills. "Through the support of the EIF programme, women in Cooperatives have been equipped with skills, processing mangoes into mango jam that is now exported to Europe and the United States of America," she said while displaying a pot of mango jam. "Now it is important to ensure that the results achieved will produce long-term lasting impact and that the revenue is being sustained. In this respect, public-private partnerships foster this principle," she concluded.


Mrs SENG Takakneary, the Founder of SentosaSilk and the President of the Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs Association, spoke on behalf of the 14 women-owned businesses supported by the EIF working with weavers in rural areas, of which 86% are women, to improve their technical and marketing skills. "Because of the project, SentoSaSilk expanded the number of contracted weavers from 9 in 2012 to 20 in 2015. Two weavers entered formal contracts to deliver exclusive designs to SentoSaSilk. The company plans to have formal contracts with more weavers to ensure consistent supplies, while providing more confidence to contracted weavers."


On the other hand, Ms Kuvien Para, a Co-owner and Manager of the Dolphin View Beach business in Solomon Islands and one of the three local female tourism operators receiving EIF support, highlighted how the grant had benefitted her community. "Tourism plays a vital role in the lives of the people of the Solomon Islands. With the support of the EIF, we could make improvements to our small facility, which prompted an increase in room occupancy at the Dolphin View Beach from only two to seven per week. This helps to employ more women in the resort as well as purchase more food crops from women engaged in subsistence farming," Ms Para said, also calling on additional support to improve marketing and investment opportunities of the tourism sector.


Representing Ms Louise Kayonga, Secretary of the Women's Cooperative Twagure Amarembo, Mr Edouard Bizumuremyi from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda in Geneva, highlighted the EIF support to the national cross-border trade strategy. "In Rwanda, gender equality is woven into the national trade and development vision of the country. However, some challenges persist, notably the harassment indulged in informal cross‑border trade, the lack of warehouses and the lack of business skills," he said.


On the development partners' side, H.E. Ms Terhi Hakala, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Finland in Geneva, highlighted how gender equality made economic sense, adding that the "EIF as a global partnership is uniquely placed to empower women in the poorest countries".


H.E. Ms Elsbeth Akkerman, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Geneva, highlighted how gender equality helped to make countries more stable. Ms Susan Barton, Senior Trade Policy Adviser, Department for International Trade, United Kingdom, added that there was an incentive to empower women, since this led to growth and had been identified in different sectors of the analytical studies. However, she also noted the need for gender-disaggregated data.


On the International Partner Agencies side, Ms Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, said, "The EIF is good, because it is focused, it is effective and it is catalytic. Our projects funded through the EIF in Benin, Lesotho and Nepal help women to overcome specific constraints." Mr Paul Brenton, Lead Economist of the World Bank, highlighted how the World Bank had incorporated the gender component in the key analytical studies that they had undertaken, for instance in Mauritania and Zambia.


Summing up the discussions, Ambassador Stevens noted how the session had demonstrated the ways in which the EIF was supporting women's economic empowerment, in enhancing women's capacity to trade and creating equal opportunities, as well as by providing a level playing field for both men and women. "We have seen that women's economic empowerment is possible if governments take the lead by implementing gender-conducive policies to promote inclusive growth and women's economic empowerment, for instance in Rwanda. And that focusing on successful sectoral examples and good practice also provides a promising path to lift women out of poverty, such as the example of Mali," she said, adding that, "from the presentations, it is evident that the business sector can lead by changing the business culture and practices, especially through the promotion and visibility of women‑owned enterprises. This has been highlighted in the Cambodian presentation."


"Platforms such as the EIF, Development Partners and International Organizations can play a critical role in supporting reforms and investments, as is the case of the eco-tourism grants provided to female tourism operators in the Solomon Islands," Ambassador Stevens said, concluding that the gender collective voice was critical, especially from women's groups to advocate, represent and hold decision-makers accountable. "Each of our voices today can be a driver of change in achieving women's economic empowerment," she said.