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Reducing gender inequality in trade facilitation? It starts with the little things.

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Gender, Gender Inequality, Trade Facilitation, Economics, Shipping, Import, Export.

Senior Economist at World Bank

Business, Advertising, Marketing, Entrepreneurship.
Oyemaja; Reducing gender inequality in trade facilitation? It starts with the little things.

Being an economist is about far more than the numbers. It’s about uncovering patterns, using data to uncover and analyse connections we’ve never noticed before. It’s about creating an awareness through analysis that becomes the starting point for change.

This is especially true when it comes to trade facilitation. People sometimes minimise the importance of trade facilitation - how could something as “little” as border processes and customs forms deliver the seismic changes we need when it comes to something as big and important as gender equality?

Gender equality and international trade go hand in hand. Research done here at the World Bank has shown that firms in developing countries that trade internationally hire more women, providing them with better pay, training, and job security. As consumers, as employees, and as entrepreneurs, trade increases the economic visibility and participation of women.

The economic and social potential of more inclusive trade is clear. In India, for example, only a third of working-age women are active in the workforce and fewer than 5% take part in trade and trade-related services. Yet there are almost 14 million female-owned businesses in India.

Unlocking this potential is a clear priority for the Indian government. With ambitions to grow Indian exports from $750 billion to $2 trillion by 2030, the recently released Foreign Trade Policy 2023 recognises and emphasises the role of trade facilitation in growing exports.

It’s a big ambition. Delivering it and, in turn, leveraging the power of trade facilitation to accelerate gender equality will require conversation, representation, and communication to address the two large, global data gaps on women and trade facilitation:

  1. There is limited information on cross-border traders broken down by gender: What proportion of cross-border trading companies are led by women/men?

  2. There is limited information on gender-specific obstacles to trade facilitation: What trade facilitation-related obstacles do traders face? Are they different for women-led and men-led firms? How do trade facilitation reforms impact or benefit men and women differently?

It’s only by facilitating and prioritising conversations that we build a picture of the seemingly little factors that limit big change.

Over the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to join workshops with organisations like FISME and the Confederation of Indian Industry. More recently, I discussed these issues at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) seminar on Integrated Approach to Trade and Transportation Facilitation on August 8. These critical conversations are starting.

Making sure the right people are in the room is key. Building a more comprehensive, nuanced understanding of gender-specific trade barriers means making sure women are represented at all levels and stages of the trading process.

Initial regional findings from the World Bank have found that women aren’t well represented in trade associations and, with the exception of Samoa, governments consult women less when it comes to border processes and related matters.

That might mean changing the time and location of trade association meetings. That might mean offering paper surveys as well as digital ones to mitigate the gender differences in access to technology. Consciously considering the little changes we can make will make a big difference when it comes to facilitating truly representative discussions.

The need and importance of communication doesn’t stop once the data has been gathered, the workshops held, and the recommendations made. It doesn’t stop even once new measures have been introduced.

When big changes have been made, we have to reverse the process, thinking about the little, everyday conversations and communications channels that help roll out reforms and enable people to feel the benefit.

It’s a big challenge. Our research has shown that fewer women traders know about time saving digital reforms, such as electronic declarations and pre-declarations. It’s not enough to make big changes, we need to join the dots and communicate them to the people that stand to benefit the most.

Trade is a powerful global economic force that can be harnessed to accelerate gender equality. In order to access that potential, we need to think about how to simplify and modernize the processes that underpin day-to-day trading which have the potential to support or alienate those interacting with them.

Trade facilitation may seem like it’s about little, practical things: forms, border processes. In fact, it’s about something far bigger: participation. It’s about people being able to understand, participate, and thrive in the economic systems designed for them. There couldn’t be anything bigger, more personal, or more important.

I’ll be continuing the conversation in Mumbai at the workshop with the Federation of Freight Forwarders Association of India (FFFAI) on August 23 and a workshop with India SME Forum, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies Organisation (FICCI FLO) and Indian Merchant Chamber (IMC) Commerce & Industry on August 25.

To find out more about my work on trade facilitation and gender, get in touch at

Originally published by Nora Dihel on Linkedin

Oyemaja Executives.

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