In his keynote speech, Ambassador Bekkers recalled that access to trade finance is one of the four pillars needed to secure women's economic empowerment, alongside access to digitalization, markets and knowledge. “The lack of gender awareness in trade policy obstructs women's economic empowerment. Knowledge is power and therefore I strongly support the importance of the Research Hub,” he said.

Ambassador Valencia of Ecuador, also a keynote speaker, noted that the collection of sex-disaggregated data, including on trade finance, is encouraged by the WTO through its Action Plan on Trade and Gender 2021-2026. “For Ecuador, it is very clear that the robustness of social economic data allows for a better diagnosis of the structural issues of women in trade, as well as the evaluation of the impact of implemented policies,” he said.

The lack of trade finance is by far the biggest barrier to women's participation in intra-African trade, with 87 per cent of women surveyed having been rejected on their loan application, said Nadia Hasham, a trade policy expert at the African Trade Policy Centre of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and Agnes Gitau, a consultant specializing on regional trade, gender and trade finance. They said more can be done at the policy level to improve stakeholder coordination, share best practices and pool resources. “Gender equality could also be better taken into account in the implementation of legal and regulatory frameworks,” they said.

For Nathalie Louat, a director at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), gender gaps in trade finance are larger and more complex than expected. “Gender-disaggregated data is rarely tracked by banks. It is, however, essential to define baselines and to track improvements in key metrics like rejection rates, risk performance and pricing,” she said. “Banks are seeking greater advisory support from development finance institutions for targeting dedicated funding lines and new products, such as risk sharing, so that they can go into new business segments.”

Sonja Kelly, Director of Research and Advocacy at Women's World Banking, identified challenges in gathering data and evidence on women's issues in both financial inclusion and trade. “These challenges include the lack of sex-disaggregated data, hidden gender biases in existing systems for entrepreneurship, the lack of a business case for partners to lend to women entrepreneurs, and distance between the development community and end-users,” she said.

Confirming these findings and trends, Francisca Ochieng, founder and chief executive officer of Lheritier Skincare, a Kenyan company manufacturing value-added skincare products, reported that the lack of trade finance results in missed trade opportunities. “Collateral expectations are still traditional, with the banks asking us if we have a vehicle or land that they can hold against the loan. In addition, some of the loan officers do not receive training that would make them understand our business needs,” she said. To keep her business growing, she said she has to find alternatives such as setting aside funds out of company revenues, receiving financial support from her family, and making arrangements with her clients.

Launched in May 2021, the WTO Gender Research Hub is a platform that allows experts and researchers to share information, create partnerships and give visibility to trade and gender as a recognized field of research. The next Think Up! session will take place in July and October 2022, leading up to the World Trade Congress on Gender organized by the Research Hub from 5 to 7 December 2022 at the WTO. Under the theme “Gender Equality for Sustainable Trade and Recovery,” this conference will be the first global research event on trade and gender equality. The WTO Gender Research Hub has issued a call for papers for the event.

For more information about the Research Hub's trade and gender research, consult the database on trade and gender, which hosts over a 100 research papers.

The video playback of the first Think Up! session is available here.




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