Boosting women’s economic empowerment with export opportunities

ILO, UN Women and European Union seek to close business gender gap through trade promotion

News | 30 November 2020
Creating avenues for women-owned enterprises to export their products and services to the European Union (EU) will lead to more economic development and gender equality, advised experts during a recent webinar offered through the WIN-WIN: Gender Equality Means Good Business Programme.

The hour-long virtual session was co-hosted by Programme implementation partners the ILO and UN Women on 12 November. It invited women entrepreneurs from across Jamaica to learn about free trade agreements with the EU in order to grow and strengthen their businesses through export networks.  Panellists offered step-by-step guidance for participants to learn competitive business development so that they can access the markets of the 27 EU countries and over 400 million consumers. 

“The European Union is one of the strongest regional economic groups in the world. Its main economic engine is a single market that allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people,” explained Julia Scandale, ILO Consultant for the WIN-WIN Programme, who facilitated the workshop. “It offers stability, a single current, mobility, growth and harmonized standards with reduced bureaucracy and paperwork.”

Set against the backdrop of the export potential of the EU, the event also emphasized the importance of national gender policies in matters of foreign trade. These can include government programmes for building the skills and capacities of women to transform their products for export, as well as ensuring networks can share knowledge, linkages and support.

“Empowering women to participate fully in economic life is essential in order to build stronger economies, and improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities,” said Gayle Gollop, National Private Sector Specialist of Jamaica for UN Women and Programme Manager of the Win-Win Programme. “Companies drive gains in productivity, competitiveness, innovation and ultimately exports by developing policies and practices to improve gender equality at the workplace, and gender-responsive procurement that source from women-owned businesses.”

Diane Edwards, President of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), discussed some of the issues women entrepreneurs can face when preparing exports. “A lot of times people have developed products for the local market and they are not adapted to the tastes of the export market,” she advised.

She highlighted the power of linking buyers and businesses in Jamaica’s cosmetics, agriculture and tourism sectors to reach international customers. “We have a female-led organic coffee movement. Their products are very high-level, very special, unique blends of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee so we think they could benefit from women buyers who want to buy sustainable products that are helping women and that are organically grown,” she explained. 

The event also identified other ways that women-owned businesses in Jamaica can diversify for export, within the framework of good practices and with institutional support.

According to featured panellist Ethnie Miller-Simpson, President of Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC), it is important to have greater access to financing, relevant skills development and understanding on the requirements and conditions for scaling businesses for international markets. She also emphasized the need for gender-responsive trade policy, linkages between home and export countries, as well as business networks that operate in the best interest of women.

“Even though women-owned businesses are a relatively small part of the export sector in Jamaica, with forums like these and continued easier access to finance, I expect women-owned businesses to be a greater part of the export market in Jamaica,” said David Wan,  President of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF).

By strengthening women's business leadership, promoting their labour participation, and taking measures to close the gender pay gap, the EU-funded WIN-WIN: Gender Equality Means Good Business Programme seeks to guarantee the full and effective participation of women and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of employment, decision making in the political, economic and public life spheres. For more information, please visit: https://caribbean.unwomen.org/en/our-work/economic-empowerment/win-win