February 04, 2021
Bridging digital divide from a gender lens is important for the growth of women entrepreneurs along with trade and jobs
“One of the significant issues among various challenges in the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal sub-region is asymmetric information resulting in barriers for women to do business including cross-border trade,” said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International. He was moderating a webinar on “Mainstreaming Shepreneurs in International Trade” organised by CUTS International.
The webinar was organised to launch animation videos produced by CUTS to educate women entrepreneurs on trading procedures and motivate them to participate in the global market. This initiative is a part of a project titled “Gender Dimensions of Trade Facilitation: Evidence from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal” supported by the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office under its Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Programme. More than 100 from this sub-region and beyond participated in it.
Stressing on the importance of ‘access to information for trade’, Anoush der Boghossian, Head of Trade and Gender, World Trade Organisation, said that better and right knowledge helps women to dispose-off middle-men while doing business. She stated that the WTO has gathered evidence on women entrepreneurs in East Africa, South Asia, and in Latin America.
The study found that despite low level of knowledge on trade rules, women were eager to participate in the export sector. Ninety-two percent of women-led enterprises were interested in taking trade-related training.
She added that there is room for action that needs to be concrete and grounded with the needs of women entrepreneurs and traders. She informed the audience that the WTO is coming up with a programme dedicated to women entrepreneurs in line with their needs to fill-in existing gaps in knowledge and training.
“Governments can integrate a gender lens while crafting trade policies. For example, women engaged in the informal sector are not tech-savvy; therefore, the government needs to make policies inclusive of each aspect of doing business and trade,” she underlined.
Jahnabi Phookan, National President, FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) and Director, JTI Group, Assam, pointed out that the changing global economy provides women with new opportunities through services, global value chains and digital technologies.
She added that for women to benefit from these opportunities, they should have equal opportunities in policy-making through a gender lens. Gender sensitivity for targeted interventions are vital.
While presenting FLO’s work, she informed about a recently-concluded memorandum of understanding with the National Skills Development Corporations that provided free access to learning resources and digital skilling awareness drives through e-skills.
This has increased home-prenuers in urban and semi-urban areas in India. Minimum investment with maximum profit has been a boom for them. “It is giving them a flexible work environment, direct connection to buyers and cutting out the middlemen,” she added.
Speaking on the occasion, Mia Mikic, Permanent Advisor, Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on Trade, said that it is critical to position trade policy as a gender transformative policy so as to understand its impact on the ground.
This is yet to happen fully because gender difference is not measurable due to the absence of gender disaggregated data. Therefore, governments should invest in data collection to create more transparency in their trade policies and to make them more impactful.
According to her, women in this sub-region are predominantly responsible for taking care of their household needs. For a more productive use of their time for entrepreneurship, the government should simplify the trade procedures to the best of their knowledge using digital technologies as much as possible.
She mentioned that the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is working with various digital companies to help women entrepreneurs create a database of their transactions, which can be used as digital assets for applying for loans, among other benefits.
In her presentation, Nandita Baruah, Country Representative, The Asia Foundation, highlighted that challenges will remain but opportunities have increased through massive scale-up of digital platforms for any economic activity including knowledge generation and trade.
“The question is how to make them sustainable including for making-up the lost opportunities due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on business.”
She suggested that in order to increase the footprints of women entrepreneurs in the trading sector, one needs to first look at their role in the domestic economy and for that to happen, capacity gaps are to be addressed in a decentralied manner including through the lens of value chains.
In his concluding remarks, Bipul Chatterjee said that as governments have limitations in reaching out to a large number of micro, small and medium entrepreneurs, there is the need for a large-scale, decentralised engagement of the private sector and the civil society and community-based organisations.
“That is how women’s role in business and trade can be enhanced and our post-Covid economic recovery will be more balanced, resilient and sustainable,” he concluded.
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