As part of the celebrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Saana Institute partnered with Trade Out of Poverty All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to organise a seminar on the topic of trade and women’s economic empowerment.
The event took place on the 10th of September at the UK House of Commons, and featured ITC’s Executive Director Arancha González as the keynote speaker and Mahlet Afework, an award-winning Ethiopian designer and beneficiary of ITC’s Women and Trade Programme, as a guest discussant. The debate was chaired by Rt Hon Peter Lilley, Member of Parliament and Co-Chair of APPG on Trade Out of Poverty, and a Former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Ms González focused on trade, and particularly promoting small and medium sized enterprises’ access to global markets, as a key route for promoting inclusive growth and reducing poverty in developing countries. As part of these efforts women entrepreneurs represent an under-utilised resource in many economies, missing the same type of opportunities in terms of access to finance, information and markets as their male counterparts. Technical and financial support to small and medium-sized enterprises, which provide up to 80% of formal jobs in developing countries, is therefore key to unlocking the potential of female entrepreneurs and contributing to long-term job creation. Ms González also recognised that targeted and inclusive economic policies can further help build an environment supportive of women-ran businesses. She pointed to the example of USD15 trillion global procurement market, of which only 1% is supplied by women, presenting a huge untapped opportunity for more gender-responsive public procurement systems.
In her speech Ms González emphasized that women’s participation in productive activities and trade can play a pivotal role in terms of female empowerment and household poverty reduction, highlighting the fact that ‘women invest up to 90% of earnings in their family and community – for example, in the health and education of children – compared to approximately 40% by men’. Beyond statistical improvements in household income and educational and health outcomes, female entrepreneurs who have been able to expand their businesses thanks to ITC support have experienced an immeasurable improvement in terms of building their dignity and self-confidence.
Mahlet Afework, whose company has been a direct beneficiary of ITC’s Global Platform and Ethiopia Textiles and Garments projects, shared her experience of working with the ITC. ‘Since I started working with ITC, I have had the opportunity to participate in workshops at the London College of Fashion and the Parsons The New School for Design in New York,’ she said. ‘Working with ITC and the designers and students at the two schools has been overwhelming and very inspiring. It has been a life-changing experience.’
In her presentation Ms González highlighted a number of successful initiatives the ITC has implemented under its Women and Trade Programme and the opportunities for achieving bigger impacts through scaling up. Funded by UK’s Department for International Development, Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the programme targets a number of sectors in which women play a central role as workers and entrepreneurs, including coffee, cotton, agribusiness, textile and garments. The programme has increased demand for goods and services supplied by women by matching international businesses with female entrepreneurs and building women’s capacity to meet buyers’ requirements. A highlight of ITC’s work this year, the 3rd Women’s Vendors Forum and Exhibition will be held in parallel to the 14th World Export Development Forum (WEDF) taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 15-17th September.