Heathertex, a medium-sized clothing company in Egypt, has experienced a loop of challenges and adversity to keep their business open.

Director Alaa Hamdy explains that in March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit Egypt, she knew that the impact would not only relate to health and the economy, but that it would also affect women and vulnerable communities socially.

Established in 2018, Heathertex employs around 350 people, 80% of whom are women. “Being a woman myself, I understand women’s needs and the responsibilities they carry on their shoulders. More than ever, our company had to be a strong and reliable employer,” says Hamdy.

She explains that since the COVID outbreak, they have not dismissed or reduced the salary of any of their employees, “on the very opposite, we are planning to build a nursery on our premises, so all mothers have a safe place to leave their child. A small but crucial service that will have a major, positive impact on their personal and professional lives,” Hamdy proudly emphasizes.

Heathertex production comprises knitted and woven wear like scrub tops, bottoms, work uniforms for men, women and children. The company exports 100% of its products, mainly to America as well as to Italy and Greece in Europe. “In our two first years, we have achieved impressive results selling our products to famous international brands,” comments Hamdy. The director argues that despite all the challenges, 2020 was surprisingly a positive year for her company. “We restructured our production and operations to respect all health and safety measures. Our sales increased by 23% during the pandemic,” says Hamdy.

With the support of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Alexandria-based company has progressed thanks to the initiatives led by the Global and Middle East and North Africa Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX/MENATEX).

For Alaa Hamdy, receiving support through the GTEX/MENATEX project made a real difference during COVID-19. She explains that the increase in export is related to reducing the company’s lead-time, a methodology they learned at a training.

“The GTEX/MENATEX project brought insightful ideas and know-how to our company. We are currently implementing the techniques we learned in the Lean Manufacturing and Material Sourcing training courses,” says Hamdy. She also explains that Heathertex will apply environmental management measures designed during the resource efficiency and circular production coaching (RECP), as well as add more sustainable practices in their production.

“We are looking for green solutions in our electricity and water consumptions. In addition, we plan to improve our resource efficiency and enhance our waste management to increase our profitability.”


Yasmine Helal, GTEX/MENATEX National Project Coordinator for Egypt, emphasized the dedication of the participating companies and their achievements.

“In 2020, despite the pandemic, many companies were eager to learn and adjust with the new trends and norms. Eleven companies made massive changes to their digital presence following the digital marketing and access-to-market coaching the ITC project provided, including three who developed their online stores,” says Helal.

The national coordinator also highlights that five companies reported improved operations and lead-time. “They increased the efficiency of their operations by 10% to 15%, following the lean manufacturing training. Another five companies reported receiving export orders from new international buyers as a result of the funded participation to virtual exhibitions with others in progress and/or in negotiation phase,” concludes Helal.

GTEX/MENATEX Egypt plans for several activities and training courses including a boot camp on access to finance for textile and clothing companies in July. The two-days event will provide companies the opportunity to improve their knowledge on finance and accounting, as well as acquiring skills and confidence to design and pitch a project to financiers through role play and matchmaking sessions. Following national health authorities’ guidelines, the event is expected to take place in Cairo in a hybrid format.

The Global Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX) and the Middle East and North Africa Textiles Programme (MENATEX) are implemented by the International Trade Centre until December 2022. They are co-financed by the Swiss and Swedish governments, respectively.


New Policies Can Ignite Online Trade, Economic Growth and Inclusion

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA today called on Central Africa’s 11 governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access to digital services and public-private collaboration.

Mobile internet use in Central Africa more than doubled in the past decade to 42% at the end of 2019. Women and entrepreneurs increasingly use e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, according to the joint GSMA-ECA report titled “Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications”. The report makes the potential for economic development and social inclusion clear.

E-commerce is growing quickly in Central Africa and mobile connectivity and payments are key to gaining momentum. By the end of 2020, there were 16 live mobile money services in ECCAS[1], serving nearly 50 million registered accounts.

The report shows that while the retail e-commerce landscape is dominated by global players, such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, domestic and regional players are leveraging local knowledge to compete. Jumia, is an example of this and is Africa’s largest e-commerce company with operations in 11 countries across the continent.

Insights from the report outline how social commerce, the use of social networks for e-commerce, is also gaining traction. Facebook’s 14 million users in the sub-region make an attractive marketplace and the preferred platform for many e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Despite this progress, all 11 countries in Central Africa are falling behind when compared to their peers. The infrastructure, investment and skills necessary to fuel online shopping rank in the bottom third of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index of 152 countries.

The report makes clear that mobile telecom operators are a vital part of the solution. They provide connectivity for online activities, including e-commerce, enable digital payments and, support e-commerce by way of APIs and sales agents to address challenges in the sector.

“Central Africa is budding with economic potential and e-commerce can accelerate that growth,” said Angela Wamola, the GSMA’s Head of Sub Sahara Africa. “The GSMA is proud to partner with the ECA on this report bringing our knowledge of how digital technologies can propel sustainable development to the work. We hope it will inspire action from policymakers and stakeholders in the region.”

In Central Africa, as many as 264 e-commerce start-ups operate in at least 23 countries. The employment potential is significant with online marketplaces are set to generate 3 million jobs by 2025.

The region can progress quickly if governments enact policies to accelerate digital and e-commerce services, specifically:

  • Enhance digital and financial inclusion
  • Take the right approach to data regulation
  • Address key challenges in the business environment
  • Leverage stakeholder collaboration

“Mobile network operators must play a critical role to accelerate digital inclusion, economic diversification and sustainable development,” said Antonio Pedro, Director of ECA’s Sub-regional Office for Central Africa. “If governments act now, Central Africa can be more competitive and collaborative for the benefit and inclusion of all citizens.”

Please go here to download the report: Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications.

Watch an explanatory video here: Mobile Services for e-Commerce in Central Africa (new GSMA-ECA report)


What is the Generation Equality Forum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted more than 25 years ago, in 1995. Promises had previous been made to close the gender gap. However, previous goals have not been complemented by successful implementation, and women worldwide are still facing discrimination in many fields, ranging from economic participation to public leadership, as reiterated by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021.

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF), convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, represents a unique opportunity to change the status quo. Why? Because of its inclusivity and focus on practical results, financing, and bold commitments.

First, the forum gathers not only international organizations, foundations and governments, but also stakeholders that have often been excluded by international treaties and agendas, such as civil society organizations, the private sector and feminist movements. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, “The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective. Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality”.

Second, the goal of the forum is ambitious, yet concrete and achievable: to catalyze collective actions through strong pledges and drive increased investments. How? The Forum is organized into six Action Coalitions (AC), which represent six categories of pivotal issues to be addressed: (1) Gender-based Violence; (2) Economic Justice and Rights; (3) Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; (4) Feminist Action for Climate Justice; (5) Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality; and (6) Feminist Movements and Leadership. The leaders of the coalitions, after a year of comprehensive negotiations and research, have established a set of actions and tactics that will be implemented in the next 5 years.

The Forum culminated in July in Paris, where the action-oriented agenda proposed by the six ACs was received so favorably that governments, philanthropic organizations, civil society groups, youth organizations and the private sector made commitments worth more than $40 billion to advance the agenda’s operationalization. This pledge demonstrates a major step-change in the path towards women’s empowerment; the lack of dedicated financial resources is commonly recognized as the major reason for slow progress in implementing the Beijing Conference agenda.

UNCDF’s role in and commitments to the Generation Equality Forum

In 2020, UNCDF was chosen as global leader of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Women’s Economic Justice and Rights (EJR). UNCDF also plays a pivotal role in supporting the work of the Technology and Innovation Action Coalition (T&I). The operational approach of UNCDF is rooted in strengthening local systems, capacities, policies, and institutions to address persistent systemic gender inequalities through technology, innovative forms of financing, technical assistance, and product design. To do so, UNCDF values strong partnerships with international organizations, civil society groups and the private sector organizations, these stakeholders are all members of the GEF. In turn, there is a strong alignment between UNCDF’s mission and the agendas of the EJR and T&I ACs.

As highlighted by UNCDF’s Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha in her remarks provided at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, UNCDF’s vision is to create Equal Economies by working to achieve two sets of commitments: Gender Finance Gap Zero; and Red Tape Zero. Through the first commitment, Gender Finance Gap Zero, UNCDF pledges to narrow the finance gap that contributes to unequal opportunities for women’s advancement across societies and economies. The second commitment, Red Tape Zero, represents UNCDF’s commitment to address the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape” to inclusion and participation.

Moreover, UNCDF is strengthening its programmatic approach and partnership by joining two collective commitments. First, UNCDF has joined the 2X Collaborative, through which we will promote gender lens investing in emerging markets using innovative blended finance solutions and partnerships with capital providers to develop new financing mechanisms to support women-led and gender responsive SMEs. Second, UNCDF joined the Digital Literacy Equity Outcome Fund in partnership with the Government of Finland, UNICEF, and Volta Capital, through which we will continue our work to advance innovative financing as a means to close the gender digital divide.

How do we move from commitments to action?

UNCDF’s unique mandate to bring public and private sector capital to the world’s least developed countries positions us well to support the blueprints of the EJR and T&I Action Coalitions, as well as several collective commitments. You can find highlights of the areas of focus for both Action Coalitions below the graphic.

Now, as we move towards implementation of the agreed Global Acceleration Plan for Action Coalitions, the most urgent next steps for UNCDF are to effectively and robustly connect our assets – innovative financing mechanisms, financing capability, technical expertise, in country presence – to the work of other partners to help realize the ambitions of the Generation Equality Forum in order to catalyze change and accelerate the closing of the gender gap.

Our work will support partners in the emerging and less developed regions around the world in their ambitions to lift millions of women and men out of extreme poverty. Our actions will specifically contribute to addressing discriminatory practices and reducing gender inequalities by promoting women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF aims to support this work by focusing on the following key priorities:

Gender Gap Finance Zero ( UNCDF will specifically contribute towards actions that will increase the volume of financing available for gender equality commitments in target LDCs.

  • Serve as the United Nations’ flagship financing agency for the LDCs to co-create innovative financing solutions to overcome the barriers to gender equality
  • Leverage UNCDF’s loans, guarantees, grants, blended finance instruments and technical assistance to increase investments in women-led businesses and gender responsive local economic development projects.


Red Tape Zero (addressing the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape”)

  • Co-lead of “Reaching Financial Equality for Women” A 10-point Action Plan for Reaching Financial Equality was launched through a partnership between the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF, UNSGSA, UN Women, Women’s World Banking, and the World Bank for governments and businesses to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 by prioritizing women’s digital financial inclusion. The associated advocacy campaign featured 20+ CEOs and Ministers committing to one or more of the 10 actions to advance women’s digital financial inclusion.
  • Address gender based discriminatory practices and norms, as well as strengthen economic policies, budgets, plans and governance structures by providing technical support to local partners through the use of the comprehensive training course for local governments on WEE.
  • Utilize toolbox on WEE financing to support a comprehensive bottom-up approach using gender responsive local economic assessments to promote WEE that cuts across policy and regulatory support and local financing solutions. Measure the inclusiveness of digital economies, especially for women in digital economies through the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard in 20+ LDCs and addressing the identified market constraints for gender equality with the help of the Inclusive Digital Economy & Gender Playbook
  • Implement with the G7 Partnership for Advancing Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, policy and advocacy support to increase women’s digital financial inclusion and women’s leadership in the financial sector in 15+ African countries.


Both our Gender Gap Finance Zero and Red Tape Zero commitments will help us make Women Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies in 28 countries as well as build Inclusive Cities by transforming urban areas into spaces of equal opportunities for everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

As Executive Secretary Sinha concluded in her remarks, these commitments will “impact women and their families in the LDCs, allowing them to have equal access, equal agency and equal leadership in their societies and economies.”


Over a year into the pandemic, we have witnessed how a sweeping infectious disease and lockdown measures quickly deepened inequalities, hindering the progress that many have fought for years to achieve. One of the most striking examples is the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women.

The pandemic is not gender-blind: Women are doing more domestic chores and family care than men. They have been more likely to lose jobs than male counterparts, and sectors that employ a higher share of women have been especially affected by the crisis.

A recent World Bank paper reveals that women-led businesses were also unequally affected by the crisis when compared to businesses led by men.   This is the case particularly in sectors that were hit hard by COVID-19, such as the hospitality industry, as well as in microbusinesses.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the World Bank has been conducting surveys with about 45,000 firms in 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries, to grasp the impact of the crisis on companies. To understand specifically its effects on women-led enterprises, we decided to look at survey data gathered from April to September 2020—arguably the most challenging months for many businesses around the globe. The results of this study—the first global assessment of gender differences in the impacts of COVID-19 on enterprises—were sobering.

For instance, in the hospitality industry, while men-led companies exhibited a 60 percent year-on-year drop in anticipated sales, those led by women estimated a 68 percent decrease (controlling for size, income, and the severity of the shock). Similarly, women-led businesses faced greater financial risk, with many reporting having less cash available to cover their costs than their male counterparts.

Despite the challenges, women-led businesses are responding to the COVID-19 crisis with resilience and innovation. In fact, our survey found that women-led small and microbusinesses were much more likely to increase the use of digital platforms compared to those led by men.   While firms globally are turning to technology to cope with the pandemic, it was encouraging to see that women-led microbusinesses are leading the charge.

In addition to asking businesses about the impact of the pandemic, we were curious to find out the extent to which they benefited from public support programs enacted by governments around the globe. Here, the gender gap remains. On average, women-led businesses were 2 percentage points less likely to report accessing public support compared to companies led by men.  This shows a need for policy makers to raise awareness among women-led businesses of the available support programs, as well as to better inform women managers and owners on how they may benefit from these policy measures.

The COVID-19 crisis is still evolving every minute. While vaccination campaigns across the world have helped businesses reopen and recover, it is vital for policy makers and the global development community to keep track of gender-disaggregated data on the impact of the pandemic on companies, especially those in hard-hit sectors. This information will be crucial as countries work to build a more equal and resilient economy.


The Inclusive Digital Economies & Gender Playbook is a practical how-to guide on leveraging the market system development approach to decrease the digital and financial divide for women and girls, use technology to improve women’s economic opportunities, and to help to transform women into builders of emerging digital economies.

It contains a wealth of research on the common constraints faced by women in least developed and emerging economies, and concrete examples of interventions that can address those constraints.

The playbook brings together research and practice by many of the leading organizations working to achieve financial inclusion and gender equality.

The Playbook highlights decades of expertise and learning shared by development organizations, and draws on UNCDF’s experience using a market development approach to identify market constraints to gender equality, with a focus on women’s digital and financial inclusion.

The aim of this version of the playbook is to serve as a handy reference that lays out the market constraints for women and the potential interventions to address them. The playbook highlights interventions, or plays, that can be used individually or together to address constraints. It combines innovative new approaches with tried-and-tested methods that can be replicated in new markets.

It is intended to be a living document that evolves with experience. It should serve as a starting point for dialogues, programme design and planning at the country and programme levels. This should be regarded as a working draft and further feedback is welcome.

The Inclusive Digital Economies & Gender Playbook was developed by Nandini Harihareswara, Senior Advisor on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, UN Capital Development Fund, with assistance from Anushree Deb and Rose Payne. This tool was produced through the Women As Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies approach within UNCDF.

Read Full Publication HERE.


Booksie was born from Edem Torkornoo’s idea to make high-quality books written by African authors accessible to children, from newborns to young adults. Booksie is the first pan-African online children’s book shop in Ghana. It is also a book subscription service and a literacy canter.

Edem has always been a bookworm. Once her sister and friends started to have kids, she realized how important it is to educate children about their heritage. However, finding books written by African authors was not easy. To be able to find them, she decided to create her own website, on which she delivers a careful curation and offers sales of high-quality books.

While selling books worldwide, Booksie is not a mere e-commerce platform: it is also a space where children are celebrated and where Edem teaches children to read so that they “can fall in love with books”.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Booksie has experienced a continuous growth in sales. This is mostly because of its readiness to sell online and mastering social media as a tool to connect with customers and build brand awareness. WhatsApp has also been a key element in the owner’s survival: the company has used it to assist customers, clarify offers, answer questions and promote events.

Tips for digital entrepreneurs

Edem participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series “E-commerce Tips from Peers” where she provided a series of tips. For Edem, social commerce has been key.  She encourages other entrepreneurs to explore social platforms and implement innovative techniques.

“Some of my customers just prefer to have a direct contact. WhatsApp or Instagram messages are a good way to be more approachable and meet the need of your customers. Moreover, you have the chance to carry on the conversation instantly”, says Edem.

However, Edem has also experienced a series of obstacles in logistics. Distribution prices remain quite high, and delays can still happen. The key is to have a smooth customer service system, inform customers about delivery times and be as transparent as possible.

Edem also suggests that entrepreneurs build a quality network of people operating in their respective field. Thanks to being part of an author’s associations, she has partnered with other businesses in Africa to tackle the high prices in deliveries. Only when joining forces, they managed to obtain discounts from one of the biggest delivery companies operating worldwide.


The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the trade ecosystem for women in the developing world

When COVID-19 lockdowns started and borders closed in March 2020, Euphrosine saw her sales of avocado oil plummet in Rwanda. So she created an online shop on her company’s website to continue selling her products.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods, businesses and trade in least developed countries (LDCs) have been particularly pronounced. According to a WTO report, LDCs saw a 10.3% decline in exports in 2020 compared to 2019, and a 10.5% decline in imports, which led to a significant loss of income. Established and burgeoning tourism industries were brought to a halt, and economic activity suffered with international tourist arrivals collapsing by 67% in LDCs. Business ties were also severed by a lack of connectivity.

This picture of gloom has manifested even more gravely for women entrepreneurs in these countries, as they suffer more acutely from any distortions in the trade ecosystem, and this has been especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women, trade and COVID-19

Business and trade rely on a vast ecosystem with various stakeholders. For women traders and entrepreneurs in LDCs, this includes participants along the value chain such as suppliers of raw materials, cooperatives, transporters, warehouse managers and airlines, to mention a few. Elements such as clear customs procedures, established banking systems and good internet connectivity are equally vital.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted these systems and stakeholders. Women entrepreneurs had to creatively devise means to continue doing business while navigating the complexities that arose from closed borders and lockdown orders. Traditional models of doing business involving physical movement of persons to facilitate transactions were no longer viable, and e-commerce and digital trade were catapulted to the fore as the most viable means of trade. Euphrosine reacted by partnering with other businesses to share the shipping costs of the bottles she needs to sell her oil.

Digital literacy remains low in LDCs, especially among women, and the general ignorance about benefits accrued from digital trade is high. Internet connectivity is very expensive and IT infrastructure are not well distributed. Studies confirm that internet penetration rates globally are 48% for women, compared to 58% for men. But even with more people in developing countries starting to use the internet, the digital gender gap is actually growing. In LDCs, only 14% of women use the internet, compared to 24% of men.

When the pandemic hit, women in LDCs lacked means of digital connectivity. Many women who had been using their mobile phones for everyday communications were not using the internet for business purposes. Important gaps existed in skills such as online marketing.

The pandemic as an impetus to go digital

Women are resilient, adaptable and quick learners. Small-scale traders at fruit and vegetable markets in Kampala, Uganda, illustrate just that. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales via digital and online platforms were almost non-existent. Following the start of pandemic and noting that business had ground to a halt in markets due to restrictions on movement, the Jumia e-commerce platform and UNDP partnered to connect women vendors to online consumers. This initiative was launched in conjunction with the Ministry of Trade, a key partner of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) in supporting Uganda’s efforts to integrate into the global trading economy.

Many of the women vendors had little formal education and limited, if any, exposure to online platforms for business transactions. The initiative started by introducing the e-commerce platform to vendors in five markets, but within three weeks two more markets joined. Each market includes over 700 women across the agricultural value chain, from producers to wholesalers, retailers and exporters. The impact of introducing Jumia was powerful, and allowed women to continue earning incomes even during the lockdown.

Initiatives such as the above offer opportunities, but uptake has its challenges. Not all the women who could have benefitted have a smartphone. According to the 2020 Mobile Gender Gap Report, women across low- and middle-income countries are 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 165 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone.

The challenges are further compounded by societal and cultural expectations that women should attend to domestic chores after they return from their businesses. It’s not always possible for women to juggle their caretaking and business roles.

Leveraging the local to go digital

Creative and innovative approaches are required to quickly address some of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in LDCs who want to enjoy the benefits of digital trade and e-commerce.

Simple solutions such as ensuring that digital platforms embrace the use of local languages provide a level of trust for women to gain interest in connectivity. Almost all women traders in LDCs subscribe to an association or business membership group. The members of these groups will usually possess varying levels of exposure to information technology, with younger women more proficient compared to older groups. Those with higher levels of exposure can be urged to support their peers through mentorship trainings, so they provide simple explanations and where possible transact on their peers’ behalf as part of on-the-job training to help them gain confidence.

Hybrid strategies combining new digital approaches with traditional approaches should be harnessed and escalated by governments and development partners to address present day challenges, particularly for women. The EIF in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has launched a programme called Tech as a Driver of Women’s Economic Opportunities in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti targeted at building digital skills for women and closing the digital gender gap. More of these interventions are needed, especially in LDCs, to help increase the number of women in business and trade, while deepening their understanding of the complexities around sustaining a successful business. These efforts will help pave the way for the women already in trade to break into regional and international markets.

A better future can be developed by building digital skills capacity, supporting gender specific digital policies that enhance women’s economic empowerment and enabling business mentorship programmes . Then the pandemic could, having wreaked havoc on business and trade, also worked as an enabler of digitalization – with women as its main benefiters.

As for Euphrosine, after a steep digital learning curve establishing the online shop for her business, she has also joined other e-commerce platforms in Rwanda to help drive sales of her avocado oil business.


The British Standards Institution and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East-Asia have joined the eTrade for all initiative.


The UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative is going from strength to strength. Two new members – the Economic Research Institute for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East-Asia (ERIA) and the British Standards Institution (BSI) – have joined the initiative, raising its membership to 34.

The new members will bring new substantive areas of focus and strengthen the initiative’s efforts to leverage partnerships across the digital economy’s global landscape in supporting developing countries, particularly least developed ones, to use and benefit from e-commerce.

UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant welcomed the two organizations and said: “The eTrade for all initiative only exists because of the collective engagement of its partners. We connect the dots among organizations with various expertise and interests and we offer a neutral platform for an inclusive dialogue on how to ensure that the digital economy brings benefits to all.”

Ms. Durant said the initiative would continue to advocate for a more inclusive digital economy and broaden its areas of work with the active involvement of its two new partners.

About the new members

ERIA, an international organization established by 16 East Asia Summit countries, conducts research, policy analysis and advice and capacity-building to support economic integration across the ASEAN and East Asia and wider regional community building.

ERIA investigates, among others, issues related to innovation and technology in development, such as e-commerce, digital marketplace, ICT advancements, renewable energy, the circular economy, cyber security, and interactive learning.

“ERIA is honoured to join eTrade for all. We look forward to strengthening our collaborations with UNCTAD and other eTrade for all partners and contributing to various areas and activities by building on our longstanding work on digital trade and e-commerce across ASEAN and East Asia,” said the organization’s president, Hidetoshi Nishimura.

ERIA has conducted analysis and provided policy support and capacity-building on trade, including digital trade and e-commerce, across ASEAN and East Asia for over a decade. It’s also committed to playing an active role in the upcoming Asia eCommerce Week (17-21 October), one of the key events for eTrade for all partners.

BSI represents the United Kingdom’s interests in standards development across global standards organizations. It helps improve the quality and safety of products, services and systems by enabling the creation of standards and encouraging their use across all sectors.

In a world of rapid technological change, BSI’s collaborative and consensus-based approach with industry experts, government bodies, businesses of all sizes and consumers ensures trust in and speed of adoption of new technologies.

It has been particularly active in developing standards for digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, digital ID, blockchain, cyber security and more, which facilitate international trade and enable market access.

“We are pleased to join the UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative, and look forward to working with the network to build trust in the digital economies of developing countries by promoting awareness, development and use of international standards,” said Scott Steedman, director-general of standards at BSI.

BSI recently released a whitepaper, “The Role of Standards in Supporting the Transition to a Digital Economy and Facilitating Digital Trade – Transforming Systems using Standards”, which is focused on the needs of LDCs.

The paper highlights the role that international standards can play in building national digital resilience and promoting trust in e-commerce.

It recommends the development of a standards-based toolkit to help sectors and companies in LDCs prioritize the adoption of standards in key areas such as digital ID, network security, interoperability, data sharing and the provenance and tracking of products in a global value chain.

COVID-19 has led to a surge in e-commerce

E-commerce is playing a growing role in the global economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its expansion impacts the UN Sustainable Development Goals, bringing both new opportunities and challenges.

As social distancing and restrictions on movement have become the new normal to contain the pandemic, businesses and consumers have increasingly “gone digital”, providing and purchasing more goods and services online.

The share of e-commerce of global retail trade is estimated to have surged from 16% in 2019 to about 19% in 2020.  And the accelerated shift to e-commerce is expected to be sustained during recovery from the pandemic.

Initiative more relevant than ever

Against this background, the eTrade for all initiative – launched in 2016 – is more relevant than ever.

Since its inception, it has served as a global helpdesk for developing countries to bridge the knowledge gap on e-commerce information and resources – through its dedicated platform – and as a catalyser of partnerships.

Positive spill-over effects have also emerged, such as the eTrade readiness assessments and the eTrade for Women initiative.

The most recent example of a collaborative effort was the global review of the impact of COVID-19 on e-commerce and digital trade. In this first research-oriented project of the initiative, a group of partners joined forces and collectively produced a global report and four regional reports.

The research resulted in a snapshot of the pre-pandemic situation, identified early mitigation strategies adopted by governments and businesses in the first stages of the pandemic, and highlighted policy recommendations on how to cope with the fallout from the crisis in the area of e-commerce.

eTrade for all funding partners

The partnership and its spin-off activities have been funded by Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.

More information about the partnership’s impact and activities can be found at, as well as a repository of useful resources dedicated to the impacts of COVID-19 relating to e-commerce and the digital economy.


eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) provide a snapshot of the e-commerce ecosystem in developing and least developed countries and regions for each of the seven pillars of the eTrade for all initiative, which are key to embrace their digital transformation: e-commerce assessments, ICT infrastructure, payment solutions, trade facilitation and logistics, legal and regulatory frameworks, skills development and access to finance. They also address challenges related to gender equality and measuring e-commerce and the digital economy.


The technology industry is booming – in the first quarter of 2021, global venture investments reached $125 billion (a 94% year on year increase). But if a rising tide lifts all boats, why has the inclusion and participation of women in tech not also shot up?

According to the most recent Global Gender Gap Report, it will now take 135.6 years to reach gender parity, up from about 100 years in 2020. Here, we meet 8 women CEOs and 2021 Technology Pioneers, who are working to change this statistic.

Amena Ali, CEO, Airside

On the work she is doing now

Airside’s Digital Identity Network provides secure and convenient digital identity management in a way that protects personal information and meets privacy regulations.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“I have come to find that creating a business and scaling it will not always be an ‘up and to the right’ dynamic. Setbacks are inevitable, whether on the front with a customer, partner, or your own team. To learn and bounce back from challenges, it’s critical to do retrospectives with the team. Doing so is key to building the company’s perseverance and resilience, and as a leader, you need to model that for the organization. In some ways, I think women can keep everyone’s egos in check and behave in a way that best leads the way through organizational challenges.”

Luan Cox, Founder and CEO,

On the work she is doing now

FinMkt is revolutionizing point-of-sale consumer lending through its omni-channel, multi-lender, software-as-a-service platform.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“It needs to start with changing the perception of what qualifies ‘a founder’ within our global culture: This begins by teaching and coaching young people that successful entrepreneurs are not classified or limited by gender. If young males are taught early that females can be impactful leaders and entrepreneurs, they will be more supportive and better able to recognize success. Young women should learn that they are equal to men, and can and must dream big: women must know that they can be even better business builders (especially in technology, life sciences and finance). Additionally, venture capital firms and angel investor groups would do well to create and invest in mentorship and training programmes in their communities that provide tools and guidance that encourage more young females to start their own companies knowing they are supported by an inclusive network.”

Mikela Druckman, Co-founder and CEO, GreyParrot

On the work she is doing now

GreyParrot provides AI-based computer vision waste recognition software to monitor, audit and sort large flows of recyclables at scale.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“Firstly, we have to stop celebrating hyperbolic visions of founders and value different metrics of progress and success. Women will have a tendency to downplay or be more cautious in their projections, but are equally capable of building great ambitious companies. Secondly, we need to normalize the combination of family life with entrepreneurship. Many women will hesitate to start a company because of the perceived all-consuming lifestyle of a start-up founder and expectations of investors. In reality, a good founder will lead a ‘sustainable’ lifestyle that allows to build a company over five-10 years, and this should include the possibility of having a family. The ecosystem should celebrate female or male founders having families and discourage the narrative of the sleep-deprived, over-worked founders as the only way to success. Finally, we need more women in partner positions in VC firms to create a more balanced investment community that is attractive and welcoming to female founders too.”

Maria Carolina Fujihara, Founder & CEO, SINAI Technologies

On the work she is doing now

SINAI Technologies is mitigating climate change by enabling organizations with digitized tools for intelligent carbon emissions measurement, reporting and mitigation option assessment.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“Besides being a female founder, I’m also a Brazilian female immigrant. I moved to the US four years ago (I bought my own ticket!) and had to build an entire life from scratch, not only a company. Latin female founders represent only 4% of all female founders in the US. The biggest challenge was at the very early stages, when I was still trying to figure out my own voice and didn’t have the baggage needed to position myself, I was constantly judged because of the way I look, my gender, my accent. I tried to make friends, but I didn’t have the money to hang out with them, go out for dinners and mingle. Being very focused on my decision, trusting myself and my passion, listening to my intuition, my gut, and being my authentic self no matter what, was the only way to overcome the judgement, the exclusion and the fear of being an impostor.”

Priya Lakhani, Founder and CEO, CENTURY Tech


On the work she is doing now

CENTURY develops world-leading AI-based learning technologies. Its team of teachers, neuroscientists and technologists develop AI tools for schools and colleges, as well as for learning and development environments.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“If we are to encourage more girls to consider careers as start-up founders, we need to start by encouraging them to take more calculated risks from an early age. There is no part of start-up life that doesn’t include taking big, calculated risks, so it tends to only attract people who are more inclined that way. That tends to lean towards men, at least partly because of how we raise girls with far more caution. It stems from everything like protecting girls when playing more than boys, which research has found to be prevalent among parents, to the types of role models girls see in these industries. But I am confident that we are heading in the right direction and that being a start-up founder is an incredible opportunity regardless of your gender.”

Nita Madhav, CEO, Metabiota

On the work she is doing now

Metabiota harnesses data science, provides analytical tools and delivers hands-on support, helping governments and businesses around the world mitigate and transfer the health and economic risks posed by infectious disease.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“This might sound like a cliche, but whether it’s establishing technical credibility or a presence in the boardroom, I’ve often felt that I’ve had to strive to be extraordinary and prove myself to a greater degree, working 10 times harder just for people to take me seriously. I don’t know if the main reason is due to being female, or if it is my understated, introverted personality, but I feel like some combination thereof means I don’t fit the preconceived notion of what a CEO is, and it can be difficult to overcome other people’s biases, whether they are implicit or explicit. It’s been my observation that a person who fits the more ‘traditional’ CEO mold seems to be given a certain amount of assumed baseline credibility, while for those who don’t fit the mould, it is not just a given, and it can be a battle just to get there.”

Ruth Poliakine Baruchi, Founder and CEO, Myndyou

On the work she is doing now

MyndYou’s AI-powered virtual care assistant takes population health and patient care management to an entirely new level.

On the strengths of women founders

“Every entrepreneur, regardless of gender, has different skills, experiences and goals. But in my experience, female entrepreneurs are reliable, responsible and attentive. Relationships and collaboration are important to them. I think, too, that women entrepreneurs tend to see how a solution, product or technology can benefit society at large. My company built a groundbreaking commercial solution, but it grew out of my desire to improve the life, health and independence of older adults who are living at home.”

Jutta Steiner, CEO, Parity Technologies

On the work she is doing now

Parity Technologies is a core blockchain infrastructure company. It is creating an open-source creative common that will enable people to create better institutions through technology.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“I’ve gotten this question a lot, and the key for me is that rather than asking, “Why aren’t there more women? or “How do we get more women interested?”, we should highlight the great work being done by women already here, and use that as an invitation for others to come and build on our successes.”


Establishing the right mindset is the key to digital transformation

“The most important e-commerce challenge that women entrepreneurs are facing in Tunisia is finding the right mindset for digital transformation,” says Samia Ben Abdallah, an e-commerce advisor in Tunisia.

“The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) ecomConnect programme is raising awareness among women about the importance of going digital and planning strategically, which is key to earning stable incomes. The project is very timely”.

Samia, who is also the founder of AwA – a Tunisian company that produces beautiful handmade jewelry, is one of the consultants who has been trained by ITC’s ecomConnect team to help women-led businesses in Tunisia sell online. This project is funded by the World Bank and provided by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA) initiative.

Having the right mindset is essential, despite the obstacles

The project aims to use e-commerce as a way to alleviate some of the constraints faced by women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Indeed, more than 100 SMEs are receiving in-depth training in selecting and listing in the online marketplace. Although e-commerce has already shown its potential for small businesses, it comes with its own challenges, such as: the level of shipping costs, the availability and cost of international payment solutions, the lack of streamlined customs duties and clearance procedures for low-value items, and also the lack of information and capacity regarding available platforms. In MENA, women have even more limited access to technology than in other regions, which makes e-commerce challenging.

From Samia’s experience with the programme’s beneficiaries, she highlights the additional challenge of the lack of planning and strategic vision: “most Tunisian women do not dare to take the risks that would allow them to progress well. The main issue here is not knowing the real challenges of e-commerce. For example, the women entrepreneurs I work with tend to underestimate the efforts to be made in digital marketing, therefore, they do not know how to create quality digital content.

Tackling the lack of knowledge

Hajer Aissi, a beneficiary of the programme and founder of Art Artisanat in Tunisia, sees the project as an opportunity to increase the visibility of her business and access to international markets. “The training is helping me to know the different platforms better and to understand people’s preferences and how to reach them. I am also learning how to create beautiful photos for my products and write complete and impactful descriptions in order to attract new customers.”

The project addresses this knowledge gap by building capacity and providing online tools. ITC trains advisors who, in turn, train women-owned businesses through group trainings and advise them individually through one-on-one coaching sessions.

After reviewing their market research and e-business strategy, the beneficiaries were able to apply their research findings to create content tailored to the selected target markets and sales channels. Now that the content is ready, the consultants help the companies select the most appropriate market for each of them.


Digital Literacy Coaching Programme taps into post-pandemic opportunities for women entrepreneurs to bridge the digital gender divide through training and skills development…

The informal sector in Bangladesh accounts for 85.1% of employment, and 91.8% of employment of female workers.

These findings from a recent survey into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women-owned businesses (WOBs) in Bangladesh reveal the urgent need for enhancing digital literacy across the country.

Most Bangladeshis, particularly women, have been vulnerable to restrictions on businesses and places of work, pushing them into economic crisis. Moreover, women are disproportionately represented in sectors severely hit by the pandemic, highlighting the need to not only increase the number of opportunities online, but also to make them more accessible to women.

Recognising these challenges, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative partnered with Visa to launch a Digital Literacy Coaching programme for women-owned businesses in Bangladesh, with a special focus on the textile and apparel, information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries. The coaching will better equip women-owned businesses with digital skills and expertise to respond to market disruptions and external shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme

The programme comprises of three virtual training workshops followed by one-to-one coaching sessions offered to the group of WOBs. It began in March 2021 and will run for 12 weeks. Upon completion, each business will have the opportunity to define and develop their own digital strategy, with the support of subject matter experts, trainers and coaches.

The webinars will cover topics including online presence optimization (digital marketing), e-commerce and key considerations when conducting business online.

WOBs will acquire skills to expand their business offerings online by improving their sales channels and connecting to global markets through e-commerce. The SheTrades and Visa digital literacy coaching programme aims to leverage the learning tools and resources offered on as well as Visa’s valuable expertise in digital technologies and online payment solutions to close the gap and help women owned businesses to thrive. The collaboration between Visa and SheTrades will use this as a pilot to be replicated in different countries.

For queries regarding SheTrades or the coaching programme, please email: .

For more information, please visit

For more information, about and Visa on Facebook


Johannesburg, South Africa — Africa’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $14.5 billion between 2025-2030, according to an IFC report published today. The report finds this can be achieved by increasing the number of women selling on online platforms and by providing them with better training and financial support to help them match sales made by men.

The report, Women and e-commerce in Africafound that COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship in Africa and that more women have embraced digital business. However, it also noted that more can be done to promote women’s entrepreneurship and help women overcome e-commerce challenges.

For example, e-commerce marketplace platforms are well-positioned to target women-owned businesses with training, and to encourage women’s participation in higher-value segments such as electronics. Women could also strengthen their businesses by taking advantage of emerging fintech offerings, such as in-platform loans, which women currently access at much lower rates than men. The report leveraged data from leading e-commerce firm Jumia, as well as from surveys of vendors in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Nigeria.

“E-commerce in Africa is thriving, yet we are already seeing a widening gender gap in the sector. IFC’s report not only highlights the gap, but also shows how it might be addressed so that women entrepreneurs can succeed in this important and rapidly growing marketplace,” said Sérgio Pimenta, IFC’s Vice President for the Middle East and Africa.

Juliet Anammah, Chairwoman Jumia Nigeria and Group Head of Institutional Affairs, said, “It is absolutely essential for women to be factored in, given the future of e-commerce. Africa is just at the start of its e-commerce growth trajectory. Now is the time to ensure women entrepreneurs are the leaders of Africa’s digital journey.”

The report shows that women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in Africa, though they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments. On the Jumia platform, just over a third of businesses in Côte d’Ivoire and over half in Kenya and Nigeria are owned by women.

Supporting women entrepreneurs has taken on renewed urgency since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the first year of the pandemic, women-owned businesses in the three countries studied suffered reduced sales of 39 percent, compared to a 28 percent drop for men-owned businesses.

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission, which brought together 17 leading technology companies operating across the global online marketplace to boost opportunities for women in emerging markets. Additional funding was provided by the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality. The research was carried out by IFC in partnership with global evidence and advisory firm Kantar Public.

About IFC

IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit


Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $280 billion between 2025-2030, according to an IFC report published today with data from e-commerce company Lazada. This can be achieved by increasing the number of women selling on online platforms and by providing them with better training and financial support.

The report, Women and e-commerce in Southeast Asia, found that COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia and that more women have embraced digital business. However, it also noted that more can be done to promote women’s entrepreneurship and help women overcome e-commerce challenges. For example, e-commerce marketplace platforms are well-positioned to target women-owned businesses with training, and to encourage women’s participation in higher-value segments such as electronics. Women could also strengthen their businesses by taking advantage of emerging fintech offerings, such as in-platform loans, which women currently access at much lower rates than men. The report leveraged data from Lazada, as well as from surveys of vendors in Indonesia and the Philippines.

“E-commerce in Southeast Asia is thriving. Since 2015, the market has tripled in size, and it is expected to triple again. In this research, IFC shows that this growth could be even higher if we invest in women entrepreneurs on e-commerce platforms”, said Alfonso Garcia Mora, Vice President for Asia and Pacific, IFC.

The report shows that women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in Southeast Asia, though they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments. On the Lazada platform, about a third of businesses in Indonesia and two-thirds of businesses in the Philippines are women-owned.

Supporting women entrepreneurs has taken on renewed urgency since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the Philippines, for instance, the sales numbers of women-owned businesses had been higher than those of their male counterparts but, due to COVID-19, fell to just 79 percent of those of men.

“In Southeast Asia, e-commerce became a lifeline for individuals’ daily essentials as well as a natural business strategy pivot for vendors and brands when offline operations were affected by Covid-19 safety measures,” said Chun Li, Chief Executive Officer of Lazada Group and Lazada Indonesia. “With the exponential growth opportunities available in the region, we are committed to providing women entrepreneurs with easy access to knowledge and tools to embrace and benefit from the digital economy.”

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission, which brought together 17 leading technology companies operating across the global online marketplace to boost opportunities for women in emerging markets. Additional funding was provided by the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality. The research was carried out by IFC in partnership with global evidence and advisory firm Kantar Public.

About IFC
IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit


Sweden has donated $480,000 to support UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for more donor funding in this area, as it has shown the huge gaps that exist in countries’ readiness to engage in the digital economy.

“We greatly appreciate Sweden’s long-standing support to our work on e-commerce,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director. “This work is now more important than ever in view of the rapid evolution of the digital economy and existing digital inequalities.”

Sweden has supported UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy for many years. The additional funds will, among other things, boost UNCTAD’s ability to support women digital entrepreneurs through the eTrade for Women initiative, develop new courses to raise awareness on e-commerce and improve the measurement of the digital economy.

Enhancing developing countries’ capacity

“We’re proud to support UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy,” said Mikael Anzén, Sweden’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to enhance developing countries’ capacity to participate in the digital economy, not least through stronger involvement of women digital entrepreneurs as producers and traders,” Mr. Anzén added.

UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme provides a unique platform for generating research and better statistics to enable governments and other stakeholders to understand the implications of economic digitalization for sustainable development.

It also assists developing countries to prepare for and adapt to digital disruptions and fosters global multi-stakeholder dialogue and a more coordinated approach on e-commerce and the digital economy from a development perspective.

Its activities include the biennial Digital Economy Report, the eCommerce Week, eTrade for alleTrade for Women and eTrade readiness assessments.


“During my work with artisans in Kenya, I realized the challenges they are facing to access markets and gaining exposure. I asked myself, how can I support them? Using my creativity, I started to work with them and help them be seen.”

This is how Shop Nanjala, a home-décor and customized gift shop in Kenya, came into being. With over two decades of experience in the creative industries, the shop’s owner Teresa Lubano felt it was the right time to build a legacy that would inspire others. She created a one-stop e-commerce solution, selling environmentally conscious products that helped local artisans and craftsmen obtain exposure and opportunity. All of Shop Nanjala’s work is locally sourced and made in Kenya.

During COVID-19, even with the economy negatively affected by the pandemic, the business witnessed a record 514% growth in revenue compared to 2019. By March 2020, the company’s number of online conversions had increased exponentially. “Due to the pandemic, people rely more on online platforms and are more prepared and ready to use them for their convenience”, explains Teresa.

No beginning is easy, however. During its first four years of existence (2015-2019), the brand was mainly selling offline despite the efforts of optimizing its e-commerce brand. The team used the first years to build a consistent brand image and create a loyal audience thanks to an efficient customer service strategy.
For Teresa, social media, and especially Instagram, has been key for her company’s success. Most of the buyers start their customer journey on a social media channel, where they discover the products, and then move to the website to complete the purchase.

The business got a boost on social media when it benefited from the first prize of the E-commerce Story Pitch Contest in 2020, organized by the International Trade Centre’s ecomConnect project with the support of Charicomm, a digital marketing agency for sustainable businesses. Training during the contest looked at setting goals and using paid campaigns on Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

Teresa also participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series E-commerce tips from peers, where she shared tips with new entrepreneurs.
1) stressed the importance of creating high-quality content and a consistent content plan, especially on social media
2) highlighted the relevance of tracking metrics to measure performance and embracing innovation;
3) and urged other entrepreneurs to offer outstanding customer service.
The founder also shared that her best secret is having a team of creative, visionary people.

Shop Nanjala’s dream is to see the day when Kenyans will buy products Made in Kenya: it is the team’s firm belief that these products have global quality standards and echo sustainable ethos.

Interested in finding out more on how to succeed in your e-commerce journey? Join the International Trade Centre’s next Facebook Live event here.


Digital jobs are opening up important new work opportunities for youth with disabilities in developing countries.  The COVID‒19 pandemic has accelerated the expansion of jobs which offer flexibility, accommodations for disability and functional access for remote communities.

In our new report “Digital Jobs for Youth with Disabilities,” S4YE highlights strategies that programs have used to increase inclusion of youth with disabilities in digital jobs.

Here are five reasons why recent developments in digital work opportunities may present an opportunity to ramp up efforts to include youth with disabilities

1.    New forms of work through flexible, remote, digital gig jobs can provide opportunities to include those with disabilities 

Technological advances have given rise to a growing digital economy, creating new forms of digital job opportunities such as business process outsourcing and digital ‘gig’ jobs. An impact sourcing model, taking offshored digital work and directing it towards workers and areas that would not typically access it, can provide a meaningful business-led approach to engage youth with disabilities.  e.g., Digital Divide Data(DDD) in Cambodia and  Enablecode in Vietnam are both social enterprises which work with youth with physical disabilities to connect them to outsourced digital jobs.

Microwork can be especially helpful as a starting point for remote populations, like those in fragile, conflict and violent (FCV) contexts,  with low digital skills, mobility constraints and limited access to  local jobs. Online work experience can help youth with disabilities establish a work history and develop a professional network that can help expand more opportunities in future.  Recent studies have found that, online work can also help youth with disabilities to build a sense of self-worth and empowerment that is combined with feelings of creativity, and social contribution.

2.    Recent developments in assistive technology solutions can help level the playing the field

Digital tools can support people with disabilities to perform tasks that they might otherwise be unable to do effectively.  Thus, making  youth with disabilities suitable candidates for jobs, irrespective of their disability, and create more inclusive workplaces. Some examples are below.

Tech solutions for different types of disabilities
Tech solutions for different types of disabilities. Source:

An increase in accessible online recruitment platforms (e.g., JobAbility) can offer youth with disabilities direct access to employment and employers, thus  expanding their access to the traditional labor market.

3.    Technology solutions can be used to provide experience with life like situations, essential to develop skills for work

Youth with disabilities who have been beneficiaries of charities often lack confidence when entering a workplace. Innovative simulations like in Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Academy, which does skill building though bite-sized, gamified modules with relatable characters, help provide youth with disabilities a safe learning environment and build confidence.

Also, business simulations, like Youth Business International’s ‘The Digital Entrepreneur Experience Simulator’ (DEES), have the potential to train youth with disabilities on entrepreneurship skills. These have been used extensively to train workers in finance, hospitality etc. and provide persons with disabilities the opportunities to experience personalized learning close to real-life business development process.

4.    Digital entrepreneurship opportunities, although limited, may also become more inclusive over time.

With the emergence of online platforms, new possibilities of digital entrepreneurship have emerged. Youth with disabilities with digital enterprises may now have more opportunities to find and interact with clients and sell their goods and services across physical and infrastructural barriers  (e.g., Alibaba). Accessible mobile applications for financial transactions can allow entrepreneurs with disabilities to mainstream their operations and improve efficiency. Private sector engagement in supplier diversity programs can also improve access to markets for youth with disabilities. For example, Google runs a small business supplier diversity program that includes disability-owned small businesses.

5.    Digital jobs can especially  help provide young women with disabilities, an opportunity to earn income. 

Digital jobs can be advantageous for young women with disabilities who experience additional workplace discrimination, limiting their advancement opportunities , and facing societal or family pressure that discourages their formal employment.

Digital skills can help young women with disabilities who are often homebound to access income-earning opportunities through online outsourcing and e-lancing. 

While digital jobs offer many new opportunities for youth with disabilities, there are also challenges for policymakers to consider. These include lack of accessibility and affordability of digital tools, inherent but unspoken biases of online platforms, lack of adequate social protection measures, and risks of isolation.

This blog is part of a series about jobs for youth with disabilities. In our next blog, we will discuss a few ways of engaging the private sector to hire more youth with disabilities


Women and girls have been discussing how to acquire cutting-edge ICT skills during an online seminar backed by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Google.

The webinar, focusing on digital literacy, digital entrepreneurship and digital leadership in three interactive panel sessions, highlighted the need for governments, civil society and the private sector to increase their efforts to build the digital skills of women and girls.

Held on 22 April to coincide with the international ‘Girls in ICT Day’, this event was the third in the Secretariat’s Data, Technology and Digitalisation series, targeting both policymakers and the public with over 100 participants.

Providing an overview of key digital technologies and the skills required to harness their full potential in the Commonwealth, the panels addressed gender equality, the empowerment of women and the strengthening of partnerships to support Commonwealth member countries.

Short films showcasing the impact of empowering women and girls were screened, with women sharing the benefits of being digitally empowered.

Benefits of being digitally empowered

Sajeda Begam, from India, is one of many women from across the Commonwealth who has benefitted from digital skills, helped by Google’s ‘Women Will’ initiative.

She said: “When I got my first smartphone and started using it to access the internet, I realised that there’s so much to learn. It gave me the self-confidence to teach others.”

Sajeda shared her experience of using the internet to help coordinate relief efforts with the authorities when her village was flooded and related how she passed on tech skills to other women and girls.

Nishma Robb, Google Director of Brand and Reputation Marketing, said: “I can never get tired of reading about these amazing stories of these women who’ve been given the opportunity and access to information.

“The opportunity to learn can fulfil not just dreams and ambitions but create more helpful opportunity for their families and communities. That’s the progress we need.”

Impact of digital inclusion

Joining the webinar, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Patricia Scotland said: “Attaining digital literacy lays the foundation for women and girls to then move on to careers in the digital world, digital entrepreneurship and to become digital leaders.

“We know, too, that digital inclusion has a significant impact for younger girls.

In education, the increased use of digital platforms and computer-centred resources means there is a potential for digital literacy to spread from schools to families and the larger community.”

The Secretary General added: “Digital inclusivity embraces the many ways in which we can cooperate and work together to tackle issues of knowledge, skill, opportunity, and access, relating to the design and use of technology and digital solutions .”

Three separate panel sessions of the seminar reached the same conclusion – that government and stakeholders should focus on programmes or initiatives that provide digital literacy for women and girls, digital entrepreneurship for financial independence and by extension, digital leadership.

Watch plenary sessions

Click the image to watch the video

Tell us about your experiences

The Commonwealth is inviting women and girls to share their experiences with the digital world in a short video message.

Click here to learn more and join the #DigitalSkillsForHer campaign. 


This May, the African Development Bank Group is launching a call for proposals for projects enhancing the viability and sustainability of women entrepreneurship enablers.

Women’s business associations, incubators, accelerators, and cooperatives that advance women’s entrepreneurship, can apply for funding for innovative projects or programs to bolster the skills of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) owned and run by women across Africa, the Bank announced.

Entrepreneurship enablers, which include business associations and civil society organizations, play an important role in empowering women to establish bankable SMEs and other businesses. However, the enablers themselves often face challenges, such as long-term growth plans and lack of financing, which reduce their reach, impact and sustainability.

“Women business enablers are critical to creating a viable enabling environment in which women entrepreneurs can grow and create businesses that generate jobs for the continent. Through the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative, the Bank is committed to supporting enablers to strengthen the business and financial skills as well as wealth-creating capacity of their members,” said Esther Dassanou, manager of the program, also known as AFAWA.

The Bank will assess applicants’ track record in supporting women SMEs, innovation and strong development impact, as well as their capacity to mobilize other sources of funding. Eligible organizations may request funding of between $100,000 and $250,000, provided through the Bank’s Gender Equality Trust Fund.

Applications must be received by midnight on 30 May 2021.

“This call for proposals is an opportunity for direct and concrete support for women entrepreneurship enablers to scale up their growth and impact, and advance women’s financial inclusion on the continent,” said Vanessa Moungar, Bank Director for Gender, Women and Civil Society.

While all countries will be considered, proposals from the following countries that already align with the ongoing AFAWA Guarantee for Growth Program pipeline are strongly encouraged to apply: Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia.

For more details on the process and to access the proposal application click here.

AFAWA aims to unlock $5 billion in financing for small and medium enterprises owned and managed by women by 2026. AFAWA is supported by the Bank’s partners and donors, the Group of Seven (G7) countries as well as the Netherlands and Sweden, and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). The funding, which aims to strengthen the ecosystem for women’s entrepreneurship, is in line with the Bank’s agenda to further gender equality and women’s empowerment.


We are living through a decisive moment. The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting impact is reaching every corner of the world. As we look back at this period, we will see history divided into a pre-COVID and a post-COVID world.

And a defining feature of the post-COVID world will be the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives. Chief Technology Officers can say that the pandemic has done their job for them, accelerating the digitalization of economies and societies at an unimaginable pace.

The digital transformation has gone hand in hand with the rise of digital technologies. These technologies have supported governments to implement social protection schemes at pace and scale. They have enabled e-health and online education, and they are helping businesses continue to operate and trade through digital finance and e-commerce.

However, ensuring that the digital transformation happening all around us does not become another facet of the deep inequalities of the countries in Asia and the Pacific is probably one of the greatest challenges we face as countries start to rebuild.

That is why inclusion must be at the heart of digital transformation if the promise to “leave no one behind” is to be met. In particular, we need to embed inclusive objectives in the four core foundations of the digital economy: Internet access, digital skills, digital financing and e-commerce.

Chances are you are reading this on your laptop or mobile phone, giving you access to the digital world. It is hard for most of us to imagine what life would be like during the pandemic if we didn’t. Sadly, this is a reality for over 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. And among those two billion are some of the most vulnerable groups. For example, some 20 per cent of students in East Asia and the Pacific and almost 40 per cent of students in South and West Asia could not access remote learning this past year. This will have lasting effects that perpetuate inter-generational inequality and poverty.

To address the digital divide, our Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative focuses on four interrelated pillars: infrastructure connectivity, efficient Internet traffic and network management, e-resilience, and affordable broadband access for all.

However, Internet access alone is not enough. There is a persistent and still expanding digital skills gap in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the top ten most digitally advanced economies in Asia and the Pacific, around 90 per cent of their populations use the Internet. At the beginning of the century, this share stood at around 25 per cent. By contrast, for the bottom ten economies, Internet users have grown from around 1 per cent in 2000 to only 20 per cent today.

In response, our Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development is equipping policymakers and women and youth with digital skills by conducting demand-driven training programmes.

On digital finance, while the percentage of digital payment users has increased over recent years, the gap between men and women users persists. Additionally, in East Asia and the Pacific, there is a US$1.3 trillion formal financing gap for women-led enterprises.

And while the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a leading force in the global e-commerce market – with more than 40 per cent of the global e-commerce transactions – these gains have been led by just a few markets.

As a response, our Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project addresses the challenges women-owned enterprises face by developing innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic. We have supported a range of digital finance and e-commerce solutions through this initiative – such as a digital bookkeeping app and an agritech solution – providing more inclusive options for women entrepreneurs to thrive. To date, the project has supported over 7,000 women to access financing and leveraged over US$50 million in private capital for women entrepreneurs.

Inclusion is undoubtedly central to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) technology and innovation work that focuses on addressing the core foundations of an inclusive digital economy.

The recent ESCAP, ADB and UNDP report on “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No country Behind” underlined the key role digital technologies played during the pandemic and how they can also play a critical role in building back better. However, the report shows that digitalization can also widen gaps in economic and social development within and between countries, unless countries can provide affordable and reliable Internet for all and make access to the core foundations of the digital economy central to building back better.

While digital transformation is certain, its direction is not. Governments, civil society and the private sector must work together to ensure that digital technologies benefit not only the economy but society and the environment, and have inclusion at their heart. Only then do we stand a chance of realizing the transformative potential of digital technologies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.


The term “digital economy” will soon become a redundancy, because economies will be largely, if not entirely, digital. But how can we ensure that digital economies are also inclusive and resilient? Three practices leaders in UNCDF’s Policy Accelerator Team–Ahmed Dermish, Olivia Kelly-Lonkeu and Amani Itatiro–discuss the importance and complexity behind supporting policy ecosystems that ensure digital economies are inclusive versus exclusive, particularly in the world’s least developed countries.


An assessment of the e-commerce ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire will help businesses in the sector adapt to COVID-19 challenges and comply with new regulations.

UNCTAD’s eTrade readiness assessment of Côte d’Ivoire, launched on 8 April, will help the country’s e-commerce businesses better adapt to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and comply with new regulations, according to one of the country’s leading digital entrepreneurs.

Patricia Yao, founder and chief executive officer of QuickCash, a platform providing mobile payment services to rural customers, said the assessment would help policymakers and businesses better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

“The assessment will help us adapt the responses of the digital ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire, taking into account the challenges and opportunities raised by the current crisis,” said Ms. Yao, UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women Advocate for west Africa.

Progress and challenges

The assessment found that Côte d’Ivoire has made significant progress in recent years to improve access to the digital economy and e-commerce.

The country’s digital economy program is integrated into its national development plan and includes the digitalization of a series of financial as well as government services.

It also includes and the expansion of critical information and communications technology infrastructure, with the implementation of a national broadband network project.

Despite these important strides, and its relatively vibrant economy, Côte d’Ivoire needs to tackle the challenges hindering its e-commerce growth.

These include costly and limited internet access, inefficient physical addresses, low public awareness on online commerce and limited digital skills of micro, small- and medium-sized businesses to effectively engage in e-commerce activities.

“It’s important to take priority actions to accelerate digital transformation in Côte d’Ivoire and allow e-commerce players to seize available opportunities. This is especially important in the wake of COVID-19 and in an increasingly integrated west African region,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.

“The valuable recommendations of this report will provide an important framework for future policy action, with a view to accelerating e-commerce uptake in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said  the country’s trade and industry minister, Souleymane Diarrassouba.

Consultative process

The assessment report is a product of a consultative process that brought together representatives of the government, the private sector and development partners.

Ms. Yao said the assessment’s multi-stakeholder approach would facilitate the implementation of future regulations and policies.

“By bringing all the concerned actors around the table, it will be easier to implement new measures because they have been previously discussed and agreed upon,” she said. “In the past, when new laws were adopted, they were difficult to comply with because those affected hadn’t been involved in their formulation.”

The assessment was funded by the German government and prepared in cooperation with the Universal Postal Union, International Trade Centre and Consumers International.

UNCTAD has conducted such assessments in 27 countries, fostering coordination and dialogue between various stakeholders and helping them overcome structural barriers to make e-commerce an engine of inclusive and sustainable development.


The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on livelihoods, businesses, and trade in least developed countries (LDCs) have been pronounced. LDCs were cut off from markets when borders closed in March 2020. They lost significant export income due to canceled orders. Their tourism industry was brought to a halt and their economic activity suffered a similar stagnation. Their business ties were severed by a lack of connectivity.

This picture of gloom has manifested more gravely for women entrepreneurs who suffered from the distortions in the trade ecosystem arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trade ecosystem under Covid-19

Business and trade rely on a vast ecosystem involving various stakeholders. For women traders and entrepreneurs in LDCs, the ecosystem will include different participants along the value chain such as suppliers of raw materials, cooperatives, transporters, warehouse managers and airlines, to mention a few. Elements such as customs procedures, banking systems, Internet connectivity are equally vital.

Following Covid-19 disruptions, women entrepreneurs had to devise means to continue doing business while navigating the complexities that arose from closed borders and lockdown orders. Traditional models of doing business involving physical movement of persons to facilitate transactions were no longer viable and e-commerce and digital trade were catapulted to the fore as the most viable means of trade.

Digital literacy remains low in LDCs, especially among women, and the general ignorance about benefits accrued from digital trade is high. Internet connectivity is very expensive. IT infrastructure are not well distributed and as such, once women return to their homes in rural areas, they are unable to continue engaging online. Studies confirm that Internet penetration rates globally are 48 per cent for women, compared to 58 per cent for men. But as more people in developing countries start using the Internet, the digital gender gap is actually growing. In LDCs, only 14 per cent of women use the Internet, compared to 24 per cent of men.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, sales via digital and online platforms were almost non-existent. Following the pandemic that grounded businesses to a halt due to restrictions on movement, a Jumia e-commerce platform and UNDP partnership was conceived to connect women vendors to online consumers.

Many of the women vendors had little formal education and limited, if any, exposure to online platforms for business transactions. However, their response to the initiative was overwhelming. The initiative started by working with vendors in five markets, but within three weeks, two more markets joined. Each market includes more than 700 women across the agricultural value chain, from producers to wholesalers, retailers and exporters. The introduction of digital platform allowed women to continue earning an income even during the hardships of lockdown.

But not all the women who could have benefited from the opportunity have a smart mobile phone. According to the 2020 Mobile Gender Gap Report, women across low- and middle-income countries are eight per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 165 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone.

Simple solutions such as ensuring that digital platforms embrace the use of local languages will provide a level of trust for women to gain interest in connectivity. Almost all women traders subscribe to an association or business membership group. The members of these groups will usually possess varying levels of exposure to information technology, with younger women more proficient compared to older groups.

Hybrid strategies combining new digital approaches with traditional approaches should be harnessed and escalated to address present day challenges, particularly for women.

Fastracking digitisation

Lillian Olok of Yaa Oils Uganda used the downtime to strengthen her relationship with her customers. She increased communication via WhatsApp and e-mail which kept the orders coming. She did not see a decline in demand for her cold-pressed shea butter, sold in bulk. In the past year, she gained new customers in DRC and Kenya, all via word-of-mouth from her happy customers. She currently exports to Rwanda, Kenya, DRC, Japan, UK and Canada.


UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women advocate for Eastern Europe explains her journey to e-commerce greatness, discusses the impact of COVID-19 and encourages women to take a seat at the policymaking table.

Nina Angelovska has always been a trailblazer. From the age of 21, she’s been shaking up North Macedonia’s digital economy with her startup-turned-mega company, Now she’s advocating for more seats for women at the e-commerce policymaking table.

Co-founder of the online shopping platform, she’s also the president of North Macedonia’s eCommerce Association and the country’s former finance minister.

How did she become a force to be reckoned within the e-commerce space? UNCTAD explores five things to know about Ms. Angelovska that catapulted her to the top.

1. A small grant of $5,000 got Ms. Angelovska on her feet after she won the most innovative business plan award from the North Macedonian National Centre for Development of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Learning at just 21.

She started with the money in 2011. She saw the potential in group buying at a time when e-commerce was non-existent in North Macedonia and blazed a trail in the new field. is now recognized as the game-changer in the market. When starting up, Ms. Angelovska says they practically educated thousands of customers to make their first online transaction and encouraged hundreds of merchants to join the e-world for the first time.

2. The company she co-founded and led, is now 10 years old.

Her firm has grown from strength to strength. Today, it is much more than a group-buying website, it is a platform that connects 3,550 merchants from all sectors to over 250,000 buyers, contributing to growing the country’s digital ecosystem.

3. She was her country’s first-ever female finance minister.

The private sector is where the magic happens, while the public sector provides the enabling environment to facilitate the magic,” Angelovska said. She’s been pushing for change both on the inside and outside these spaces. After she became North Macedonia’s first-ever female finance minister in 2019, she managed public finances amid the biggest global crisis the world has ever experienced – the coronavirus pandemic. She brought her digital acumen to the role and used it to help speed up COVID-19 support to North Macedonians. Her goal: induce positive change, speed up progression to a cashless society, digitalization and de-bureaucratize many processes.

4. Her big insight on her entrepreneurial journey.

“The key in life is to solve the problem you enjoy solving. Just keep wondering and never stop learning. This is what makes you unique and truly defines who you are,” she advises all would-be entrepreneurs.

5. On the powerful potential of women entrepreneurs.

Angelovska says the growth of our economies is at stake if we don’t include more women. “There is so much potential to be unlocked if we have more women entrepreneurs, in tech, in leadership positions and in policy. The countries that do this are the ones that will enjoy faster, more sustainable and definitely more inclusive growth,” she says. Ms. Angelovska takes her digital gender advocacy seriously, amplified by her role as UNCTAD eTrade for Women Advocate. In 2019 UNCTAD appointed her as one of seven women global advocates to advance the place of women in the digital economy. Working with the United Nations is both a great opportunity and a great responsibility to advance gender equality. In her role she’s inspiring and supporting other women entrepreneurs to harness the power of technology and the digital economy to change lives, and influence policy.

What does the future hold?

Ms. Angelovska’s journey is still in its early days, she believes. Her experience at the coalface of the COVID-19 crisis, both as finance minister and president of North Macedonia’s eCommerce Association, has given her new impetus to help people, governments and businesses go digital, especially developing nations.

“I will keep pushing for change and for digital transformation. I will keep striving to inspire and motivate as many women as I can because we really need to unlock the powerful synergy of women entrepreneurship and tech,” she said.

Listen to the latest UNCTAD Unpacks podcast with Ms. Angelovska


Inherent gender inequality and unequal internet connectivity are some of the reasons women and girls in Africa remain under-represented in the fields of science and technology, according to panelists at the African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) side event at the 53rd session of the Economic Commission for African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Addis Ababa.

Jean-Paul Adam, the Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking at the side event, said although the percentage of women in the labor force on the continent had over the years gradually increased, it remained significantly lower in the technology sector.

“Women’s lack equal connectivity is undermining their capacity to reach their economic potential. A situation that urgently needs to be addressed,” said Mr. Adam.

“Girls face discrimination in the sector, because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls.”

AGCCI is a program being implemented by UN Women in collaboration with the African Union, the ECA and the International Telecommunication Union. The four-year programme, initiated in 2018, is designed to equip young girls with digital literacy, coding, and personal development skills.

Girls are trained as programmers, creators, and designers, placing them on-track to take up education and careers in ICT and coding.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission (AUC) and the ECA, said boosting women’s digital literacy today would have far-reaching inter-generational implications.

“Women are uniquely suited to prepare younger generations to participate in the digital economy, a reason why governments should empower more women in the fields of science and technology,” she said.

Cisse Mohamed, Director of Social Affairs at the AUC, said while women and girls were encouraged to take up technology, there was no conducive environment for them to do so.

“African governments should create computer literacy programs, targeting women from rural areas, in particular. Improving access to information and communications technologies, especially Internet-enabled mobile phones, would go a long way toward supporting these efforts,” said Ms. Mohamed, adding that data safety and protection was important in this digital era.

Andrew Rugege, ITU Regional Director for Africa, said COVID-19 was a health hazard but had shown the continent the importance of ICT.

“More than half of our women and youth are not connected on the internet. There is need to close the gender gap by increasing the mobile ownership and access to internet by women and youth,” said Mr. Rugege.

“Young girls should be trained on ICT programs rather than just being consumers of the innovations.”

Hendrina Doroba, Division Manager, Education, Human Capital and Employment at the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), said girls who have participated in the Africa Girls Can Code Initiative camps, already had what it takes to convince governments to incorporate ICT into the education curriculum.

“We need to engage policymakers at the country level, to push for inclusion of ICT in education curriculum in all the countries in Africa,” said Ms. Doroba, adding that the AfDB had created initiatives of expanding infrastructure on digital learning in various countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal.

The first group of girls who won the “we can code initiative” competition from Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa presented their programming projects on robotics and animation at the side event.

The African Girls Can Code Initiative is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls through 18 Coding Camps (2 international, 12 regional and 4 in Ethiopia) by 2022.

In September 2018, the programme brought together 88 girls aged 17-20 from 32 African countries at the first coding camp. By 2022, 14 coding camps will be organized to take the programme to more than 2,000 girls across Africa.

It was announced at the side event that the next hybrid camps will be held in Cameroon and Congo.


From my young age, I have always had a dream of becoming self-employed. After my studies I worked in the IT domain for a couple of years and got the opportunity to work in the e-commerce sector. I discovered my passion for the industry when the company I was working for closed its doors while I was just starting to witness firsthand the impact it was creating in the Rwandan society. I then realized that this was the opportunity for me to start my own business, contributing my expertise and experiences to offer Rwandans an opportunity to continue shopping and selling online at the same time promoting our locally manufactured products (Made in Rwanda).

-Tadhim Uwizeye, CEO and Founder, OLADO


Tadhim Uwizeye is a Rwandan e-commerce business development professional with an academic background in computer science and information systems management. Her ten years of experience in the information and technology services focused on entrepreneurship and e-commerce. She is the founder and CEO of Olado Business Group, an e-commerce enterprise that she co-founded in 2017 with a mission to change and make the Rwandan shopping experience easier through e-commerce.


Despite the challenges posed by the infancy of the sector in Rwanda, Tadhim is optimistic about the development and adoption of e-commerce in the country.

‘Starting an e-commerce platform in Rwanda as a startup was itself a challenge. E-commerce was really in its infancy; it was new, and few people knew what it was. We were really the first movers. That comes with a lot of challenges — convincing people to adopt a new way of shopping and selling, having the trust in the safety of their identifications and more —. We had to do both marketing and education, but it took off in the end. Person to person selling is much more difficult,’ she emphasizes. The industry is becoming so promising, and it is encouraging to have so much customers excitement about our service and to see the growth.

Tadhim’s online marketplace displays various products for sale from Made in Rwanda products to imported products in different categories: Agro-processed food, fashion, electronics, household appliances, sports equipment, among others. Olado offers different payment options and delivery services to its users in Rwanda and abroad.

As part of its COVID-19 response and recovery plan, and in alignment with the Inclusive Digital Economies strategy, UNCDF Rwanda partnered with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and ICT Chamber to pilot a project that aims to support Rwanda MSMEs to increase their revenues through their presence on digital marketplaces with a focus on women-run businesses.

“The project is a COVID-19 recovery response, with an aim of supporting Macro Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs) to do their business digitally, especially after the lockdown period when only digitally runned businesses could operate. The project supports MSMEs to manage the crisis by helping them access a broader market within and outside the country. In addition, the project’s findings will contribute to the development of the e-commerce policy in Rwanda,” said Roselyne Uwamahoro, UNCDF Rwanda Program Coordinator.

Thadhim’s business, Olado, is one of the 25 e-commerce platforms that the project aims to strengthen. In a 12-month period, the project will also enable the digital onboarding of 1,000 MSMEs operating in different sectors while linking them with financing opportunities. It will also train 1,000 iWorkers (e-marketplace facilitators) and dispatch them to the field to train MSMEs on the usage of e-commerce platform.

“Being supported by the project has pushed us ahead. We are trained on the basics of building a successful business but more importantly we are given access to a network of other startups whom we could exchange ideas. we were able to secure basic support from different partners who appreciated our initiative, and we are now a recognized e-commerce platform, with promising opportunities ahead,” noted Tadhim.

For more on the inclusive digital economies strategy at UNCDF On International Women’s Day, March 8th 2021, a high-level coalition united to launch a bold call to action for “Reaching Financial Equality for Women”. The partners behind it are the UN-based Better than Cash Alliance, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, UN Women, Women’s World Banking and the World Bank.

The 10 actions for governments and companies to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 are:

  1. Digitize private sector payments
  2. Digitize payments of government social benefits
  3. Outlaw discrimination against women
  4. Ensure universal access to identification
  5. End the gender gap in mobile phone ownership
  6. Hire women at banks and mobile network operators
  7. Collect, analyze and use sex-disaggregated data
  8. Design appropriate and affordable financial products for women
  9. Help women benefit from e-commerce opportunities
  10. Create and enforce strong digital finance consumer protection mechanisms

For more details on the 10 Actions click here



When COVID-19 shut primary schools throughout Pakistan early in 2020, entrepreneur Maheen Adamjee knew she had to act quickly to save her business.


Dot & Line provided in-home tutoring to Pakistani schoolchildren with a network of women micro-franchisees who used their homes as teaching centers.

A national lockdown to contain the disease halted all in-person tutoring sessions. So in just two weeks, Dot & Line rewrote its business plan, created digital tools, and launched training classes to help its teachers shift to online tutoring sessions. The firm transformed itself into a digital company nearly overnight.

One year later, Dot & Line has expanded into several countries and is growing briskly, driven by demand from the Pakistan diaspora. The company’s new challenge: adding enough teachers to keep up with all the new students.

Adamjee is a great example of a start-up businesswoman responding to COVID-19 with agility, creativity, and resilience. There’s no question that the pandemic dealt a major blow to businesses. Some women-owned firms have rebounded by adopting new business models and using digital platforms to take advantage of emerging regional opportunities.  Adamjee and two other women entrepreneurs described their experiences and offered practical tips at a recent #OneSouthAsia Conversation, a series of online events on regional issues.

Even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions

Women entrepreneurs often pioneer new products and services that expand opportunities for others. But even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions. Legal, cultural, and financial barriers discourage women from starting a business.

Another hurdle: tariffs and trade barriers throughout South Asia. Both make it slow and costly for small firms to trade. 

“Within South Asia, trading is very difficult because of nontrade barriers and rules that change overnight. People prefer to trade outside the region than in it,” said Ayanthi Gurusinghe, a woman entrepreneur in Sri Lanka.

She founded a company,, a B2B platform that connects small buyers and sellers for products ranging from dried fruits to pharmaceuticals. offers training to help women entrepreneurs learn about international markets. It has been especially active in encouraging women to trade products across borders in Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan.

The pandemic has propelled women entrepreneurs into the digital economy which has allowed them to reach across national boundaries to establish partnerships and target new customers, overcoming travel and trade restrictions. 

“In terms of the demographics, a lot of the culture and habits are the same when you look at India, or Bangladesh, or Afghanistan,” Adamjee said. “The internet blurs those borders and allows for professional relationships that could not take place previously.”

Watch the panel discussion: Celebrating the Champions for Change in South Asia: Gender Equality in Leadership:

Sairee Chahal,  founded her company, SHEROES, in 2014 as an online community for women. It now has 22 million members in India, Bangladesh, and other countries – up from nearly 16 million before the pandemic. The site offers career tips, job leads, training, legal advice, and a free counseling helpline. It also is an online platform helping microentrepreneurs sell their goods.

In India alone, Chahal said an estimated 20 million women will become microentrepreneurs over the next three years . Many will use digital platforms or e-commerce. “That would not be possible if 300 million [Indian] women hadn’t adopted the internet in the past three or four years,” she said.

However, government policymakers have not yet recognized the enormous economic potential of women who create innovative products and services that ripple through the economy . More women entrepreneurs could “have a huge impact on GDP” but they aren’t getting the kind of policy support needed, Chahal said.

The pandemic has propelled women entrepreneurs into the digital economy, allowing them to reach across national boundaries to establish partnerships and target new customers

Our discussion identified several actions to support women-led businesses:


Thinking back over my long career at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), I remember arriving at my first-ever ITU Women’s Breakfast at the 1993 Regional Telecommunication Development Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Singapore.


This popular initiative, pioneered by a dear friend and colleague, Walda Roseman, became such a fixture at key ITU meetings over the past 25+ years. Female delegates got to meet and network with other women in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. It was especially valuable when we were much scarcer in number.

Today, after a year without face-to-face meetings, those opportunities seem far away.

Yet this year’s International Women’s Day is all about women’s leadership – the kind Walda showed.

Leadership has been high on my own agenda, too, both in my previous role as head of Strategic Planning and Management, and now as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Building momentum

ITU’s roots as a highly technical agency has contributed to a marked gender imbalance, both in our staff demographics and in the number of female delegates attending ITU events. That’s changing – but we can and should take proactive steps to speed things along.

Noticing the chronic lack of women seeking leadership positions at ITU events (as chairs of committees, for example), we began organizing training sessions for female delegates as side-events to our conferences. Eventually, ITU partnered with the US Federal Communications Commission to co-organize the WeLead mentoring programme for the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15).

Momentum grew, culminating in the first Network of Women (NoW) programme led by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. I want to build on the success of that initiative with the new NoWs we are launching across the world to accompany this year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21), set to take place on 8-19 November.

The NoW platform enables women to share experiences, learn from one another, and gain the expertise and confidence to assume active leadership roles at key ITU events.

As we launch a Network of Women in each ITU Region ahead of WTDC-21, I can already feel the excitement and passion women delegates are bringing to the process.

Our Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, was among the first leaders to join the International Geneva Gender Champion movement back in 2015. He maintains his commitment to reforming internal practices, helping countries raise awareness, and promoting ICT careers for women. All ITU Directors are working actively to advance opportunities for women and break barriers, including unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion.

A virtuous circle

Promoting women’s leadership creates a virtuous circle, paving the way for more women and girls to embrace the exciting opportunities in the fast-growing technology space. As the actor, gender advocate and former ITU Envoy for Women and Girls, Geena Davis, said: ‘’If she can see it, she can be it.’’

This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Girls in ICTs movement.

As we increasingly see over the last decade, female role models in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can inspire young girls and help women gain confidence in their own abilities and potential.

ITU founded the EQUALS Global Partnership with such empowerment in mind. The EQUALS Leadership Coalition, led by the International Trade Centre and UN Women, is working to achieve gender equality in tech leadership by 2030. We are doing this by training and mentoring, facilitating better access to finance and funding, and identifying regulatory and policy barriers faced by women in ICTs.

Through Generation Equality and the work of the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation led by ITU and other partners, I hope that more women and girls, in all their diversity, will receive equal opportunities to safely and meaningfully use, design and exercise leadership in technology and innovation.

This year, recognizing the power of mentoring to bring about positive change, ITU is launching the Women in Cybersecurity Mentorship programme on International Women’s Day. This new initiative encourages women to ‘dive in and thrive in’ the fast-growing field of cybersecurity. It aims to give them knowledge, as well as courage, to take on challenging and exciting opportunities.

Nurturing a community of leaders

Diversity and inclusivity will pay off with better decision-making and better outcomes.

Let’s make gender parity our benchmark – not just for ITU, but for a world where each and every person can fulfil their dreams and reach their potential.

Walda Roseman’s efforts were instrumental in putting gender onto the digital industry’s agenda. I look forward to being able to gather once again, when we can celebrate the power of community and the potential of ICTs to promote ever-greater global inclusiveness.


ERIA marks the International Women’s Day by releasing a video on access and participation of women in the digital economy across ASEAN, based on findings from recent ERIA publications.

The ASEAN region is one of the fastest-growing digital economies in the world, and this transition towards digital technologies is being accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To build inclusive digital economies and societies, it is crucial for women to have equal access to opportunities offered by digital technologies, especially in terms of more sophisticated forms of access, such as access to skills, entrepreneurship opportunity and leadership positions in both the private and the public sector.

Equal representation in policymaking bodies regulating and shaping the digital economy is also crucial to make sure different points of views are taken into account and to effectively tackle potential biases and discriminations associated with new digital tools affecting women. The video has been realized thanks to the financial support of Australian Aid.

Watch YouTube Video



The African Development Bank has approved two grants for research that will increase African women’s access to a range of digital financial services including loans and micro-insurance.


The grants, for $1 million and $300,000 respectively, will be disbursed through the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility, a blended finance vehicle supported by the Bank, to two financial technology firms, Pula Advisors Kenya Ltd., and M-KOPA Kenya Ltd.

Pula Advisors will use the $1 million for research of social, cultural and economic factors that impact women farmers’ access to micro-insurance in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. Research findings will inform the design and implementation of gender-centric insurance products. The project will be undertaken over a 3-year time frame.

“This grant funding will be used to leverage technology to develop innovative and responsive loan and insurance products that can spur productivity and inclusion, especially for our women smallholder farmers and traders.” said Sheila Okiro, the Bank’s Coordinator for ADFI.

The three-year project will have three phases: product development; piloting; and scaling; the outcomes are expected to benefit 360,000 farmers, 50% of them women, as well as boost farm yields by up to 30%. This will also raise incomes and enhance household and national food security.

M-KOPA will use the $300,000 grant funding for research involving 250 women and 250 men in Kenya’s Kisumu, Eldoret and Machakos counties. The company will assess the barriers to and opportunities for women’s access to digital financial services and financial literacy programmes via smartphone, and use the research insights to design a financial services app that is relevant to small-scale women traders.

The project, approved by the Bank on 9 February, 2021, will benefit women with no or limited access to financial services that run small informal businesses. Once developed, the mobile app will be used to pilot small loans to the women traders.

Both projects align with ADFI’s digital products and innovation and capacity building intervention pillars  as well as its cross-cutting focus on gender inclusion, a thematic running across all its interventions.

The PULA grant approval meets African Development Bank strategic goals, including the Ten-Year Strategy, two High-5 priority areas—feed Africa and improve the quality of life for Africans— and  the financial inclusion strategies of Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

The M-KOPA project is aligned with the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program that seeks to increase access to finance for women.

ADFI is a pan-African initiative designed to accelerate digital financial inclusion throughout Africa, with the goal of ensuring that 332 million more Africans, 60% of them women, gain access to the formal economy. The Facility was formally launched in June 2019 at the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Current ADFI partners are the French Development Agency (AFD); the French Treasury’s Ministry of Economy and Finance; The Government of Luxembourg’s Ministry of Finance; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the African Development Bank, which also hosts the fund.


On November 10, 2020 UNCDF hosted the peer learning session “How Do We Make Women Builders of the Digital Economy?” at #FinEquity2020, an annual gathering of the global of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and donors discussing the very latest developments in women’s financial inclusion.


The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries. With its capital mandate and instruments, UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. In the last years UNCDF has advanced women’s economic empowerment, increasingly leveraging digital tools and stakeholders when appropriate. UNCDF has created diagnostics and critical research, levelling the playing field for relevant stakeholders, and helping them understand the challenges and opportunities of advancing women’s financial inclusion. UNCDF has provided deep technical expertise to support human centric design of financial products for women and increased the number of women employees within financial service providers. Furthermore, UNCDF has worked with governments across the globe on the collection and usage of sex-disaggregated data.

Last year, UNCDF launched the approach to advancing gender equality in its Inclusive Digital Economy strategy, called Women as Builders of the Digital Economy, which aims to decrease the digital divide for women and girls, use technology to improve women’s economic opportunity, and to help to transform women into the builders of emerging digital economies. This approach focuses on creating strategic partnerships at a global, regional and country level, and complementing them with market facilitation and deep technical assistance to affect change on the ground. It leverages our on-the-ground presence and relationships with ministries of finance, central banks, telecommunications regulators, other relevant policy makers, as well as the private sector (including banks, telecommunications companies, fintechs and micro finance institutions) and civil society to remove the barriers to women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF is implementing tailored interventions on a country-by-country basis integrated into existing work that will both remove barriers and accelerate increased access to critical services, ultimately increasing the number of women that not only have autonomy but digital and financial inclusion. This event was a chance to bring together experts to discuss UNCDF’s approach, focusing on the most challenging barriers to advancing women’s digital and financial inclusion, and to find ways forward together.

The UNCDF Approach – Women as Builders of the Digital Economy

Nandini Harihareswara, UNCDF Senior Advisor on Inclusive Digital Economies opened the session welcoming the participants and sharing UNCDF’s new strategy, aimed at using digital innovations to address women’s empowerment challenges. Nandini explained how UNCDF pursues a market system development approach to advance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Specifically, UNCDF works with a range of stakeholders to:
• Increase the number of women and girls that own a phone, can access/use the internet and have the capability and autonomy to use it to empower their lives;
• Increase the number of affordable digital and financial products that address the needs and challenges of diverse segments of women;
• Leverage technology to increase access to finance and formalization of women-owned of managed SMEs;
• Use policy incentives and sex-disaggregated data to increase women’s digital and financial autonomy by supporting governments
• Create a “coalition of the amenable” between public and private sector actors to increase the number of women in the workforce and leadership positions.


Challenges and solutions to enable women digital and financial agency and autonomy

UNCDF were joined by three champions of women’s economic empowerment, who presented on the work their organizations are doing to help women to fully engage in the digital economy and their expert perspectives on the barriers to women’s digital and financial agency in developing countries. Leadership was a key recurring theme.

Venge Nyirongo, Thematic Lead of the Generation Equality Forum’s Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition at UN Women, discussed the need to bring together public, private, and civil society leaders to drive systemic change, He highlighted how the Generation Equality Forum, a campaign led by UN Women and hosted by the Governments of France and Mexico, are bringing together leaders to accelerate this kind of change. UNCDF is a co-lead of the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition of the Generation Equality Forum. He explained why these coalitions are needed now more than ever; “women have been agents of change since time immemorial, when we bring down the barriers that prevent them exercising agency they can take the world forward. But since the establishment of the Beijing Platform for Action 25 years ago things haven’t moved much. We need to make deliberate decisions to move forward.”

Karen Miller, Global Head of Leadership & Diversity Programs at Women’s World Banking, highlighted the need to develop a pipeline of women leaders. Organizations can do this by creating inclusive organizational culture, values and policies, using a “sponsorship” culture within financial service providers and policy making institutions to build a network of women mentors and mentees. In addition, collecting and analyzing organizational data on diversity and inclusion. She made the importance of organizational data in tackling biases clear through an anecdote; “recently I was having a conversation with an institution who said, “I’m not sure why we are spending so much time hiring and training women, when they get married and have children they leave the organization”. We started going through their data and it turned out that women had a much higher retention rate than men, it was just a bias they had. By being able to look at that data and ask the hard questions you can determine what the path forward is”.

Cavelle Dove, Lead for Women’s Economic Empowerment at UNCDF in Myanmar, also remarked on the critical role of data, particularly in understanding and addressing women’s needs. She also drew on a recent study into women’s demand for financial services in conflict and post conflict affected regions to highlight the need to raise women’s awareness of available products and build environments in which they feel comfortable learning about those products. She spoke of the power of the “sister approach”: “women have been helping other women from time beyond, so it’s vital to work women who can then share the news of what’s been helpful to them and how that might be helpful to others. For example, there was one woman we worked with in Kachin State who was not interested at all at first, but after the time was spent to understand the product and its benefit she eventually became one of the strongest advocates for this financial service”.

How do we identify the gatekeepers and unlock the gates?

Gatekeepers are people or institutions with the power to help or hinder access to a resource. Increasing attention is being paid to the need to engage the gatekeepers that control women’s participation in the digital economy. However, there is a paucity of extensive research that lists who these gatekeepers are and how to engage them effectively and appropriately.

The first discussion was focused on identifying and engaging the gatekeepers that prevent women’s access and usage of phones. Firstly, the participants identified a number of gatekeepers such as: husbands and male family members, religious leaders, regulators, teachers, but also “older generation women”. Then, they presented a number of solutions to engage the gatekeepers in a culturally appropriate way, including interventions such as digital literacy training, sisterhood learning programmes, and the empowerment of women as role models within their family and community. A strong reference that shares best practices on these and more is the “I’d Blush if I Could” Report from UNESCO. Finally, the group suggested ways to measure the success and impact of interventions=. For example, through the size of the mobile gender gap and internet usage; the number of women in the community who are using digital for economic, social and entertainment; the changes in values measured through the World Value Survey.

The last discussion of the session was aimed at recognizing the gatekeepers that control efforts to increase diversity and leadership in digital economies at scale. Regulatory bodies, men in leadership positions, and institutions that benefit from the status quo were all identified as gatekeepers. The group discussed engagement strategies including improving diversity and inclusion training, demonstrating of the benefits of diverse management on the bottom line, developing the next generation of female leaders through technical assistance, and linking investment to diversity indicators. Suggested potential measures of success were the number of female decision-makers on a national scale; the number of girls aspiring to work in the financial sectors; the number of digital platforms that have a diverse leadership and, last but not least, the number of gender-sensitive women policies.

UNCDF will integrate these learnings into its activities while supporting the work of building inclusive digital economies in 28 countries, as well as co-leading the Economic Rights and Justice Coalition of the Generation Equality Forum.


To help women entrepreneurs emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades Initiative and world’s largest package delivery company, UPS, are focussing on boosting the digital transformation of women-led businesses.

The ITC SheTrades initiative aims to connect three million women to markets and rallies stakeholders around the world to work together to break down trade barriers and create greater opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It is supported by a web and mobile digital platform.

By bringing together UPS’s smart global logistics network and knowledge and ITC’s SheTrades initiative, the partnership aims to help women in business succeed in international markets by making the process of exporting easier and more efficient.

Covid-19’s Impact on Women-led Businesses

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and particularly those in the hospitality, textiles and apparel sectors. Women-led firms operate in several of these sectors, and 64% of them have stated that their operations have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

Recognizing the need for improved and effective digitalisation to ensure these business’s survival and growth and boost their resilience against future economic downturns, ITC SheTrades and UPS enlisted digital transformation experts to offer virtual training and bootcamps to women entrepreneurs in three of their project countries: India, Mexico and Vietnam.

Held in October and November 2020, the bootcamps focused on digital marketing, e-commerce, cybersecurity and understanding the online consumer. The events, relevant tools and supporting materials were also made available to all SheTrades members through the online platform.

Business Bootcamp Entrepreneurs

Almost 700 women attended the virtual bootcamps held for Vietnam, Mexico and India. More than 90% of the participants reported the training helped them identify strategies on how to scale up and improve their digital business operations, while almost all confirmed that they had improved their knowledge and skills on privacy and data protection.

Cyntia Reyes operates her sustainable children’s clothing line, Chiquitito Detalles in Mexico, with 6 artisans and workers. Prior to the coaching programme, she was trying to launch her online store and implement a marketing funnel to enhance the user experience and track the customer journey. But she faced low user engagement and high service commissions. Following her coaching with SheTrades and UPS Project, Reyes developed a digital marketing strategy using Facebook and email, leveraging El Buen Fin, the national shopping festival in Mexico.

Reyes implemented different payment methods to enhance her online store, mitigating high costs and commissions. She also developed a holistic sales proposition that reduced her shipping charges and elevated her brand value on social media. Through a tailored strategy for Buen Fin, she increased her online sales by 30%. She has also expanded her marketplace to Facebook and Whatsapp, thereby increasing exports to USA, Canada and other global markets.

Madhumita Sarkar Guha in India owns Luxe Living, a manufacturer of unique home furnishing accessories such as ethnic printed/painted curtains, cushions, throws and rugs. Since opening in 2016, she has expanded into clothing and fashion accessories, incorporating traditional Kolkata prints in her products. Guha soon realized that digital marketing and online business were essential to reaching a larger consumer base and growing her market access. As a result of the coaching programme under the SheTrades and UPS Project, she strengthened the digital marketing and branding of her business, improved customer feedback and the functionality of her online store.

She has expanded her online presence to key marketplaces in India, such as Etsy, Amazon, Nykaa and Pernia’s Popup Shop. Today, Luxe Living is on the way to scaling up and doubling revenues through its enhanced digital presence and improved export readiness.

For queries regarding SheTrades, please email:


From education to entrepreneurship, global recovery efforts need to pay particular attention to the needs of women and girls. 


Policymakers haven’t always considered how economic shocks impact women and men differently — or how governments should respond.  When the 2008 recession hit, few asked how stimulus measures would affect women compared with men.

That approach won’t work for the COVID-19 crisis. As leaders face the enormous challenge of rebuilding post-pandemic economies, women must be at the center of their strategies. 

In many countries, women have been hit hardest by COVID-19 lockdowns. In Latin America, for example, they were 50% more likely than men to lose a job in the pandemic’s first months.

Women tend to be heavily employed in vulnerable sectors such as retail, restaurants and hospitality. They also often work in informal jobs, from selling wares on the streets to sewing at home, that lack protections such as paid sick leave or unemployment insurance. When those jobs disappeared, women had no social safety net to fall back on.

Moreover, women can have an outsized impact on economic recovery, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. World Bank research, for instance, shows Niger’s per capita GDP could be more than 25% larger if gender inequality were reduced.

What can governments do? At least three broad areas deserve attention.

First, countries can accelerate the digitization of government identification systems, payment platforms and other critical services, in partnership with the private sector. Economically marginalized women are often invisible to their governments. They are less likely to have formal identification, own a mobile phone or appear in a social registry.

While over 200 countries have developed social-protection measures in response to COVID-19, many have struggled to identify and deliver aid to informal workers, meaning many women continue to be overlooked.

Advanced digital systems can help identify women in need so they can receive cash quickly and securely.  Direct cash transfers targeted to women in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria and Zambia have already offered millions of women safer access to and increased control over funds.

India’s experience highlights the benefits of getting this right. Last year, the government was able to transfer pandemic-relief payments quickly to more than 200 million women in need because it already had sex-disaggregated data and a digital infrastructure, and these women had their own bank accounts. Governments can ensure that economic opportunities are equitably shared by broadening access to the internet, increasing mobile connectivity and building digital skills.

Second, governments can remove barriers to women’s full inclusion in the economy, whether as entrepreneurs or employees. In economies with the strictest pandemic lockdowns, women-owned companies were 10 percentage points more likely to close than those owned by men. That’s not surprising: Most women-owned businesses tend to be smaller — sole proprietorships or informal microenterprises with fewer than five employees.

Closing gender gaps in entrepreneurship would help reduce poverty, create jobs, and spur growth and innovation.  Governments should thus target lines of credit and other forms of finance to women-owned businesses, boost the creation of e-commerce platforms to enable female entrepreneurs to access markets, and help business incubators to overcome biases when it comes to investing in women-owned businesses.

Employees, too, require multiple forms of support. In some countries, this may mean making public transport safer for women so they can get to work without fear of harassment. Elsewhere, laws and regulations need to be reviewed to prevent discrimination against women in the workforce. And all countries would benefit from appropriate family-leave policies and quality childcare supported by the public and private sectors.

Finallygovernments must commit to ensuring a strong education for girls through at least secondary school.  Even before the pandemic, the world faced a learning crisis: More than half of 10-year-olds in schools across low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a basic text.

The pandemic has made things worse. Globally, more than 800 million students remain out of school and many poor students, especially in rural areas, have no access to remote learning. In sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 45% of children have been completely disconnected during school closures.

Girls face additional challenges to remote learning. If there is only one phone per household, for example, it is likely to be used by boys rather than girls, while a heavier burden of domestic work prohibits access to instruction for many girls.

Education is the key to future employment opportunities and women’s ability to have power and influence in their own lives. 

As students return to school, countries need to ensure that both girls and boys reengage with the learning process. That will require investing in hybrid schemes that mix remote and in-person learning, while focusing on foundational and socio-emotional skills that will help children catch up.

True, most of these measures will require substantial investment, at a time when rising debt poses a major concern. But the best way to pay that debt back is to get economies growing faster and to keep more families from falling into poverty.

With the right policies, countries can rebuild stronger and more inclusively. As countries respond to the biggest challenge of our generation, they should view women as central builders of a stronger, post-COVID world. 

This piece was originally published on Bloomberg Opinion.


Today, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), and SHE Investments are pleased to announce the launch of the KOTRA- Riel bookkeeping app – the first tool designed to support Cambodian micro-entrepreneurs plan, manage cash flows and access formal financial services.

One of the greatest barriers women entrepreneurs face in growing and scaling their business is access to finance. Limited collateral, lack of financial history, and low digital literacy are key challenges facing women micro-entrepreneurs. KOTRA-Riel works to tackle these challenges by creating a simple, user-friendly experience that allows those who are not technically savvy to track business earning and expenses at the click of a button.

ESCAP and UNCDF initiated the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund in 2019 to support FinTechs, financial service providers, and innovators to develop, test, and scale solutions that support women entrepreneurs to succeed. Over the past two years, the Fund has provided financial and technical support to SHE Investments; a Cambodian social enterprise whose mission is to build a gender-inclusive ecosystem that enables women-led Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to scale and create social, economic and environmental impact.

SHE’s core activities include business incubators, accelerators, and investment-readiness programs designed for Cambodian women and introducing innovative tools to improve digital and financial inclusion and financial management, which is where KOTRA-Riel comes in.

The KOTRA Riel app is the idea of SHE’s founding team, particularly Lida Loem, who leads the delivery of SHE’s incubator and accelerator programs. “The women we work with are always complaining about not knowing how to effectively manage their money,” says Ms. Loem. “There are digital tools designed for very educated people, for business-people, for English-speaking people, but not for them.” This led SHE Investments to identify a critical gap in the tools available for the hundreds of entrepreneurs supported by SHE Investments. A simple, Khmer-language application that enables women to track income, expenses, inventory, cash-flow, generate reports for financial institutions, and – perhaps most importantly – separate their household finances from business finances.

“Too many women entrepreneurs in Cambodia and the region are at a disadvantage because they simply don’t have access to the digital and financial tools and knowledge that they need to operate their businesses effectively,” said ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Kaveh Zahedi. “We are proud to have supported SHE Investments in developing this bookkeeping solution that is tailored to the needs of local women entrepreneurs. We hope this initiative can inspire and be used by the countless women entrepreneurs that are looking to build their digital and financial skills to access formal finance and in the end to just grow their businesses.”

UNCDF SHIFT Programme Manger Rajeev Kumar Gupta added, “The KOTRA- Riel app will help women MSMEs in Cambodia to reduce their reliance on fixed asset collateral. KOTRA-Riel is an innovative solution that uses business transaction data as an alternative to fixed collateral to make credit assessments. Given the COVID-19 impact on the overall Cambodian economy, this app can be instrumental for the recovery of MSMEs by providing them easier financing opportunities.”

The development of the KOTRA-Riel app was supported by the ESCAP Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship initiative, funded by the Government of Canada and the UNCDF SHIFT ASEAN programme. The app will be rolled out across the country through face-to-face training, bridging the digital and in-person experience, which allows women entrepreneurs to enhance their financial and digital literacy. ESCAP, through its Asian and Pacific Training Centre for ICT for Development (APCICT), and SHE Investments will partner with training providers in disseminating and expanding the reach of the mobile app to women entrepreneurs.

For more information on KOTRA-Riel, visit:

Note to Editors:

About the Partnership

This initiative is implemented under a regional programme initiative titled ‘Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by ESCAP. For more information, visit

The Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is jointly implemented by ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme, in partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s (UNCDF), under its ‘leaving no one behind in the digital era’ strategy.  The fund is financially supported by the Government of Canada, the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO) and Visa Inc.

About SHE Investment

SHE Investments is a social enterprise with headquarters based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Launched by three Australian and Cambodian co-founders in 2015 with a pilot SHE Incubator Program, the first gender-focused, culturally tailored incubator for women entrepreneurs in Cambodia. Alongside the SHE Incubator program, they also design and deliver Accelerator, Financial Literacy, Digital Literacy, Investment Readiness and other programs and innovative tools designed to build a gender inclusive ecosystem to enable women entrepreneurs to scale their businesses and create social, economic and environmental impact for their communities.


New insights call for an urgent need to develop the global skills needed to address new risks, new jobs and new technologies.


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has released the 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights, a collection of articles by international experts on the impact of digital transformation on capacity and skills development. In eight articles, the publication reviews the interrelationship between digital connectivity and digital skills, as well as the correlation with education, gender, digital divides and the transformative aspects within the labour market. None of these should be addressed in isolation but be part of a holistic approach to ensure countries’ successful transition to a digital economy.
“Digital Skills Insights” 2020 provides a body of knowledge that will facilitate academic research and innovation; inform policy debates and decisions among policy-makers and regulators; and help the private sector to anticipate and plan for human capital requirements and skills.
“The vital importance of digital skills to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals has been brought into sharp perspective during the COVID-19 crisis”, said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “The expert contributions in ‘Digital Skills Insights‘  are helping to ensure that digital skill gaps do not exacerbate existing inequalities.”
According to ITU data, in 2019, 46 per cent of the world population was not using the Internet.[i] This number increases to almost 80 per cent in least developed countries. A large majority of the global population (93 per cent) lives in an area covered by at least a 3G mobile signal/service, [ii] however, the lack of skills is a barrier for many to use the Internet’s full potential.[iii]
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) said: “In the wake of COVID–19, the importance of digital skills has never been so evident, nor so urgent. Those lucky enough to enjoy fast connectivity took refuge from the global health emergency by moving to a virtual environment for economic continuity, education, and interpersonal contact. However, those lacking access to digital networks and skills were left even further behind. I hope this publication stimulates important discussions on the best strategies to rapidly strengthen the capacities and skills required to profit fully from the benefits of digital transformation.”
How to address digital skills gaps
“Digital Skills Insights” provides concrete suggestions and recommendations on how some of these challenges can be addressed to better understand and bridge the digital divide, such as:
  • Governments, businesses, educational systems and society need to work together to support a dynamic workforce and constantly redefine the skills demanded by future jobs.
  • Further training and retraining will be necessary since employees will have to engage in lifelong learning if they are to be capable of responding to changes in skills requirements triggered by automation and digitization.
  • Data literacy among citizens should be tackled by policy makers and practitioners through targeted data literacy programmes to enhance citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital society.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, building human capital, specifically in digital skills, is critical for the region to leverage the benefits of the digital economy.
  • Female participation in digital skills capacity development programmes can be increased by including more women in the programme design, reaching out to parents and community leaders in the recruitment of participants, and engaging female career role models.
  • Bridging the digital gender gap relies on gender-responsive ICT policy and therefore the digital capabilities of policy-makers need to be strengthened for them to better understand the barriers to Internet access women face, and to equip them with the tools to promote more gender-inclusive public policy.
Note to Editors:
The 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights” covers four thematic areas. The first two articles analyse the type of digital skills needed in the digital economy and future labour market, and how they can be obtained.
The third and fourth articles examine new jobs that have been created and the associated digital skills requirements, such as those related to AI automation or to transportation platforms as part of the gig economy.
A fifth article explores data literacy and the use of online information, stressing the necessity for citizens to learn how to critically assess the quality of information that is circulated.
The three final articles focus on gender and digital skills, covering the digital gender divide and the gender skills gap. The articles illustrate successful programmes and opportunities that address these issues.
All eight articles stress the importance of strengthening and enhancing digital skills to successfully manage the accelerated use of digital devices within social and economic activities. Those skills range from basic to advanced digital skills and must be evenly distributed among populations and gender.
The publication is available on the ITU Academy platform.

Partnership aims to accelerate access to, and usage of, digital financial tools, services and enabling technologies to help low-income women build economic resilience


Women’s World Banking and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) today announced a strategic partnership to enhance financial inclusion and access to digital financial services for women and girls, specifically in emerging markets and least developed countries. The partnership will support economic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, which encourages women’s economic empowerment through equal rights to financial services, enhanced use of enabling technology, and policies to promote gender equality.

The partnership comes at a critical time as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to set back progress made in gender equality by decades. Women’s financial inclusion represents an incredible opportunity for sustainable development and economic resilience for global economies, with more than 1 billion women remaining outside the formal financial system. Women are more likely to lack formal financial accounts or to work in the informal sector, meaning that their ability to navigate economic shocks like COVID-19 is greatly diminished. By combining their collective strengths in innovative finance and digital financial solutions, as well as their global reach, UNCDF and Women’s World Banking will work towards addressing the barriers that prevent women’s economic empowerment and participation in the world’s most challenging markets. Specific focus will be placed on investment tools to increase financing for women entrepreneurs; utilizing and advancing digital financial solutions to expand financial inclusion; and supporting public and private sector partners to enhance government-to-people payments (G2P).

Women’s World Banking is a non-profit organization that designs and invests in financial solutions, institutions, and policy environments in emerging markets to create greater economic stability and prosperity for women, their families, and their communities. Working with 51 institutions across 28 countries, Women’s World Banking connects low-income women with financial services to encourage their financial inclusion and economic empowerment. Commenting on the partnership, President and Chief Executive Officer Mary Ellen Iskenderian said: “While great strides have been made recently to create more inclusive financial systems, women around the world remain perilously close to economic hardship and life-altering reversals as a result of their inability to access and use full suites of financial products and services. COVID-19 has put this lack of access into sharp relief. Our partnership with UNCDF presents an ideal platform from which to advocate to policymakers and financial service providers around the world to place even greater emphasis on putting the financial tools in women’s hands so they can participate and contribute economically as equal partners. Only then will our societies become fairer and our economies more stable.”

UNCDF is a UN agency with specialized expertise in making finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs), notably with its capital mandate and instruments that unlock public and private resources to reduce poverty and support local economic development. UNCDF’s Financial Inclusion Practice Area (FIPA) is focused on building inclusive digital economies that leave no one behind. “Gender equality continues to be a key focus for UNCDF as we are very focused on addressing the market constraints to digital and financial autonomy for women in our partner countries. We are pleased to enter into this strategic and technical partnership, which will help deepen our commitment to advancing gender equality in least developed regions. This is critical to our work on advancing ‘Women as Builders of Digital Economies’,” says Henri Dommel, Director of UNCDF FIPA.

On the occasion of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly and Celebration on October 1st high-level meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to advance the transformative global agenda for gender equality and along with the theme “Accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” Women’s World Banking and UNCDF announce their partnership towards the achievement of these goals.

Women’s World Banking and UNCDF will focus immediately on identifying solutions, opportunities, and partnerships to accelerate women’s access to financial services in light of the pandemic. In the next year, the two partners will work to share learnings, increase respective networks, and convene experts to make practical and tangible recommendations to guide and focus the partnership. They will also invite collaboration with other entities, working with interested partners aligned and committed to these recommendations—including governments, development finance institutions, financial service providers, fintechs, and investors—to deliver concrete, impactful solutions.

The partners will also look to further add to UNCDF’s leadership role in the Generation Equality Forum—the campaign led by UN Women to leverage public, private, and civil society leaders to drive systemic change that will reduce gender inequality—as a platform for their efforts. UNCDF was selected by UN Women earlier this year to be the UN lead for the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition within the Generation Equality Forum. UNCDF and Women’s World Banking will look to the Forum to apply their solutions to strengthen the Action Coalition’s efforts.


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We need trust, fairness, and to include women in decision-making.


Anyone with a mobile phone understands the potential of digital services at your fingertips.

And yet we also know that digital technologies are not always inclusive or fair. Women, in particular, have not equally benefited from digital technologies in their everyday lives. This is especially the case in financial services in Africa – and especially now in the time of COVID-19.

Improving choices for women

The economic activity of women and girls often goes unrecognized. However, women are actively engaged as economic actors across value chains: as producers, consumers, business owners, or community members who influence markets and policy (UNHLP 2016).

Creating equitable financial and economic systems recognizes women’s role as pillar of the economy and enables them to contribute in even larger ways, to the benefit of everyone — by to saving for the future, taking credit to fund a business, or making school payments. Digital technology can help do this. But it must be applied in a way that is inclusive and fair.

Creating an inclusive financial sector

Many variables impact the creation of an inclusive financial sector. For example, investment in necessary interoperable payment infrastructure, equitable ID systems, and rules that promote access and trust of services. The G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa is an excellent example of how governments, development actors, and services providers are coming together to address each variable, so the outcome is more than the sum of its parts.

UNCDF Policy Accelerator‘s role is to support governments reform their policies and regulations in order to accelerate digital financial inclusion and specifically women’s. There is no simple process to accelerate digital financial inclusion, but it highly depends on two crucial factors:

1. Policies and regulations

Policies and regulations play a critical part in promoting women’s financial inclusion because, they create space for digital financial services that women need, while keeping the system secure. Government policies have an outsized impact on how inclusive markets develop and leverage new technologies. Smart policies and regulations can address the built-in biases that often prevent women from accessing and using financial services.

There are many policies and regulations the impact financial inclusion, and among them several ‘basic’ regulatory enablers that are pre-conditions to large scale digital financial inclusion. Of these ‘basic’ regulatory enablers, making it easier to open an account and designing consumer protection rules to promote trust and fairness are critical to women’s economic empowerment.

Easy account opening

Account opening should be widely accessible, with or without identification. This is made possible if regulations are risk-based and establish thresholds limits that are affordable for women. There is a clear global precedent for risk-based account opening standards. Many markets need to adapt these to the local context.

Trust and fairness

Promoting trust and fairness is equally important but perhaps less clear. Defining ‘trust’ and ‘fairness’ in financial consumer protection regulation can be a murky process. Yet this should not dissuade regulators from doing so. Women are more likely to use new services when their privacy is protected and have recourse when mistreated. Services providers are responsible for building this trust, while governments are responsible for setting standards of practice and holding providers accountable.

2. Women are part of the process

Women need to be in the room when important decisions are made.

Governments should support female policymakers and regulators to develop their skills to design, govern, and adapt rules that promote inclusive financial services. Building the capacity of women in decision making roles is critical but also insufficient. Women’s groups and their representatives should also be consulted in designing and implementing policies that will directly impact them. This is particularly the case for consumer protection regulations, where privacy, transparency, and fairness are addressed directly.

It is also in the interest of governments to strive to understand the unique experiences of different groups of women in their markets so policy reforms are more targeted and meaningful. For example, women in cities will have a different experience than those in rural areas, while female entrepreneurs will likely suffer different limitations than stay-at-home mothers.

The process of empowering women to control their financial lives will not end with a single regulation or access to identification. Government reforms need to sustain the pace of change that is accelerating with the rise of digital services. That’s how today’s reforms will pay off in the long term.

UNCDF’s commitment

As a member of the G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, UNCDF is committed to pursuing these avenues of change through its Africa Policy Accelerator project. In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the French Ministry of Finance, the Policy Accelerator supports governments to design (or improve) consumer protection and account access regulations to serve women’s financial needs in Africa. We will do that by, among other activities, helping governments learn more about women’s needs in their local markets through research, while ensuring that women have a seat at the table.


A group of WTO members agreed to establish an Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender on 23 September, marking the next phase of an initiative kickstarted in 2017 to increase the participation of women in trade. The online meeting to launch the new WTO working group was held at the invitation of Iceland and Botswana.


Iceland Ambassador Harald Aspelund, co-chair of the International Gender Champions (IGC) Trade Impact Group, introduced the proposal  to establish the WTO Informal Working Group. This proposal, he said, stemmed from consultations with WTO members who expressed support for following-up on the commitments contained in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. The declaration established an initiative to remove barriers to women’s participation in trade and was supported by 118 WTO members and observers at the 11th Ministerial Conference in 2017. It now counts 127 signatories.

The Informal Working Group’s objectives will be to continue to share best practices among members on increasing women’s participation in trade, consider and clarify what a “gender lens” is in the context of international trade and review how a gender lens could usefully be applied to the work of the WTO, review and discuss gender-related analytical work produced by the WTO Secretariat, and explore how best to support the delivery of the WTO Aid for Trade work programme. It will convene for its first meeting in the second half of 2020 and establish a schedule of activities and themes to be discussed in the run up to the 12th Ministerial Conference.

“The Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment has become a vital part of the WTO’s work to make trade more inclusive,” Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah said at the meeting. “Today marks an important new phase in moving this work forward on a continued transparent, collaborative and open basis.” Read his full remarks here.

Botswana Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme, likewise a co-chair of the IGC Trade Impact Group, summed up members’ interventions at the meeting, saying that she found there to be strong support for the formation of an Informal Working Group and that concrete activities and timelines are needed next.

Dorothy Tembo, executive director ad interim of the International Trade Centre and co-chair of the IGC Trade Impact Group, further noted that work must continue to expand the group beyond the 127 current supporters.


French speakers are now able to access all functionalities on to help them grow their businesses

by ITC News

The International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative today announced the release of the French version of their online platform. Recently forging a presence in a number of French-speaking countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Senegal, the rollout of a French-language platform will now enable more women entrepreneurs, buyers, and partners to participate fully in the successful initiative.

By joining the SheTrades community on, French-speaking users can register to access various modules, participate in numerous webinars, and access past recordings at any time. The main training hub for the initiative – SheTrades Virtual Learning – is also navigable for French-speaking users. This contains free, high quality e-learning modules that have been designed by experts, and guide women entrepreneurs through the entire export journey. This means that regardless of their stage of export-readiness, they are able to access and learn relevant knowledge and skills. Funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the SheTrades West Africa project supported the development of French e-learning modules covering topics such as managing cash flow, managing quality of exports, developing an export plan, and designing a strategy for success. In addition, all publications, success stories, news, as well as user-generated content, is automatically translated for French-speaking users. SheTrades West Africa aims to improve the livelihoods of 10,000 women working in the cashew, cassava and shea value chains. To learn more about the project, visit:

Beyond the e-learning components, is also a place where women entrepreneurs can showcase their products and services, network, meet buyers, and strike deals. Not only this, they can also discover the exciting opportunities that the initiative has to offer, like part taking in international trade fairs and in-country workshops.

In 2019, under their partnership, ITC SheTrades and UPS told the inspirational stories of three women entrepreneurs through three compelling films by director Malcolm Green. Watch the film with French subtitles at: and become a member of SheTrades at

*Download the free app via Google Play or App Store.

Watch a short video to learn about the SheTrades Initiative with French subtitles at:


Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming many spheres of human activity and financial services is no exception.

In one of the lesser developed regions of China, Xin’An Bank, UNCDF’s partner organization under the i3 Program funded by MetLife Foundation, is testing one such AI technology — natural language processing (NLP) to uplift the lives of women entrepreneurs and improve their financial security.


Ms. Zhang, a vegetable vendor busy at work on a Tuesday morning in Anhui.
Photo credit: Mr. Yunbo Yan, Digital Finance Expert, UNCDF China


Investing in female-run enterprises: The “Goddess AI” loan

On a busy Tuesday morning, Ms. Zhang sells vegetables to her customers. Most women of Anhui have businesses like Ms. Zhang’s. Due to a lack of employment opportunities in Anhui province, many men emigrate to other regions of the country in search of work and send back remittances. This has meant that a large number of women stay back in Anhui to take care of their households and their enterprises. As a supplement to remittances, the women of Anhui run micro and small businesses such as vegetable stalls to keep their households in Anhui going. These women, like Ms. Zhang have financial aspirations for themselves, their families and businesses but often lack the economic wherewithal to fulfill them.

Women entrepreneurs have long been unseen in Anhui. In comparison to other parts of China, Anhui is a more traditional society, where women’s roles are confined to the household. Yet, even as women choose livelihoods that they care about and that can support their families, they struggle. For one, they manage household responsibilities including caretaking, allowing them little time to devote to their entrepreneurial ventures. Second, if they muster the resources to set up a venture, they face bottlenecks along the way to fully realize their entrepreneurial dreams. One of the biggest challenges they face is lack of access to affordable and instantaneous business credit.

Enter Xin’An Bank. Recognizing the entrepreneurial potential of the women residents of Anhui as well as the distinct challenges they face, Xin’An Bank teamed up with UNCDF earlier this year to develop financial services to enhance the financial health of these women. UNCDF has been supporting this engagement by applying a financial health approach, where aspects like customer centricity and an understanding of financial behaviours are at the heart of developing a financial product or service.

With its celebratory product, aptly titled “Goddess AI”, Xin’An Bank processes small amounts of loans to women entrepreneurs, over a mobile app, in under 24 hours. This is especially important for women short on time with limited mobility due to their many responsibilities and roles. The collection of data from potential applicants and its eventual processing is all done online. Women entrepreneurs in need of a loan merely engage with the mobile app, record voice responses to questions and upload requisite paperwork such as identity and business documents.

Upon receipt of the application, Xin’An Bank uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to verify the authenticity of submitted documents using searchable government databases. In addition, it uses natural language processing (NLP), a form of artificial intelligence that reads, understands and derives emotive and cognitive meaning from human languages to interpret the various responses of potential credit customers. For example, the response to the question, “purpose of loan” will be scoured by the NLP for evidence of hesitation, out of turn pauses and repeated corrections.

Facial expressions are also studied by the NLP to supplement voice responses, and traits such as familiarity with business and self-efficacy are tested. Responses fed into the NLP are analyzed real-time and a credit decision is instantaneously made. Both the OCR and NLP checks work in tandem, helping Xin’An Bank make a fully informed credit decision. In the event of a negative credit decision, Xin’An Bank uses its discretion to examine factors underlying a rejection and re-engages with potential borrowers on a case-by-case basis. Once a loan is approved, loan documentation including registration of mortgage and the transfer of funds are done online, and within a few hours.

Anhui Xin’An Bank is a partner organization of UNCDF under the i3 Program, funded by the MetLife Foundation.

Jaspreet Singh
Regional Technical Specialist — Asia

Audrey Misquith
Data & Insights Consultant

Source :



The joint initiative seeks to leverage tech as a driver of entrepreneurial support for women

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) have launched a cooperative project to enhance the digital ecosystem and build digital skills for women in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The project will address the ongoing gender digital divide which, while narrowing in developed regions, has widened in developing nations and the LDCs since 2013. Across Africa, the proportion of women using the Internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men; in African LDCs, the disparity broadens to a 31% gap.

Combining their resources, ITU and EIF will enhance efforts to benefit women in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti. This will be achieved by building capacity at the policy level, increasing governments’ ability to mainstream gender and information and communication technologies (ICTs), and by expanding the horizons of thousands of women entrepreneurs in sectors such as textiles and apparel, and the coffee and cocoa value chains.
“More than ever before, digital technology is a key driver of women’s economic opportunities,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “This partnership between ITU and EIF will result in vital policy support to ensure sustainable expansion of ICTs where it is most needed and will benefit women as they access and use ICTs to participate fully in their economies.”
The project will focus on nationwide fieldwork, specifically:
  • Working with governments and other decision-makers to ensure that digital economy policies are gender-responsive;
  • Working with organizational partners and other members of the local ecosystem to prepare working-age women to navigate in the digital world; and
  • Working with the private sector to create economic opportunities for working-age women in the digital world.
For example, the project will develop national curricula for train-the-trainers programmes, creating a system for distributed education ranging from the most basic use of major information/knowledge platforms to digital solutions for clothing and garment design, smart tailoring, production line, e-commerce solutions for small- and medium-sized enterprises, mobile banking, design thinking and technology innovation, and the Internet of Things for entrepreneurship.
“Building digital skills for women in Least Developed Countries can help women take advantage of growing opportunities – for business expansion, increased market connectedness and enhanced employability. This is why I am so pleased that EIF is embarking on this effort together with ITU and the governments in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti as a part of its Empower Women, Power Trade initiative, which supports innovative work with women across the LDCs,” remarked EIF Executive Director Ratnakar Adhikari.
“Finding innovative ways to close the gender digital divide is critical. We need to empower women in local communities to properly use ICTs and to maximize impact at the economic and social level. This project focuses on the right sectors, the right communities, and the right entrepreneurs to do just that,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “By joining with EIF to increase women’s access, capacity and use of ICTs, we hope to support many working-age women to be change-makers in their communities.”
Improving the policy and regulatory environment that affects the selected countries’ digital society will be key to the project’s success. To start the conversation on what actions are needed to achieve this improvement, an open discussion is planned among key stakeholders, including women entrepreneurs and women employed in the relevant sectors, officials of ICT ministries, trade sector representatives, sector associations in textiles and apparel, cooperatives in the agriculture sector, and private sector companies.
This joint project, a contribution to the EQUALS Global Partnership and part of EIF’s Empower Women, Power Tradeinitiative, will help to match job market supply and demand, and facilitate the entrepreneurial activities of women through the use of ICTs. It will be conducted in close collaboration with local partners such as cooperatives and business associations to ensure that support for women continues and strengthens after the project is complete. EQUALS partners will be included in the work at the national level, bringing additional expertise to the project planning and execution.
About the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the specialized United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organizations. Established over 150 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit
About Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF)
The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) partnership of 51 countries, 24 donors and eight partner agencies works closely with governments, development organizations and civil society to assist LDCs use trade as an engine for growth, sustainable development and poverty reduction. For more information, visit
About Empower Women, Power Trade
EIF’s initiative aims at transforming the economic lives of women in least developed countries (LDCs). It focuses on female entrepreneurs and producers, cross-border traders and women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).  At the foundation of this effort is the building of the evidence base to support gender-sensitive policies through EIF’s country-specific trade studies. Strategic support is directed at sectors in which women are predominantly engaged, so female-owned businesses can expand and access new regional and global markets. For more information, visit
The EQUALS Global Partnership is made up of more than 100 members from international organizations, governments, the private sector, civil society and academia, all committed to working together to achieve gender equality in digital access, digital skills and leadership opportunities in the tech sector. For more information, visit

Story Highlights

  • New trends in global trade—especially the rise in services, global value chains, and the digital economy—are opening up important economic opportunities for women.
  • Trade has the potential to expand women’s role in the economy, decrease inequality, and expand women’s access to skills and education.
  • But for women to reap these rewards countries need to adopt reforms in trade policy that reduce discrimination against women while building the significant human capital that women represent.

Trade can dramatically improve women’s lives, creating new jobs, enhancing consumer choice, and increasing women’s bargaining power in society. But women’s relationship with trade is complex, as it can also lead to job losses and a concentration of work in lower-skilled jobs To ensure that trade enhances opportunities for everyone—regardless of gender—policymakers should assess the potential impact of trade rules on various groups of people and develop policy responses based on evidence.

Research on gender equality and trade has been held back by limited data and a lack of understanding of the connections between the economic roles women play as workers, consumers, and decision makers. Building on new analysis and new sex-disaggregated data, this report aims to advance understanding on the relationship between trade and gender equality and to identify a series of opportunities through which women can gain from trade.

Women and Trade: The Role of Trade in Promoting Women’s Equalitya joint report by the World Bank Group and the World Trade Organization—marks the first major effort to quantify how women are affected by trade through the use of a new gender-disaggregated labor dataset. This analysis helps governments understand how trade policies will affect women and men differently.

Download the report

“Over the past 30 years trade has been the engine of poverty reduction. This report shows that, provided the right policies are in place, it can also provide an engine to reduce the gender gap”, said World Bank Managing Director Mari Pangestu. “Trade can expand women’s role in the economy and decrease disparities with men by giving women more and better employment opportunities. Seizing these opportunities will be even more important in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Mari Pangestu
World Bank Managing Director

Key Findings

Trade can expand women’s role in the economy, decrease inequality, and improve women’s access to skills and education.

  • Exporters employ more women: In developing countries, women make up 33 percent of the workforce of exporting firms compared with just 24 percent of non-exporting firms.
  • Trade creates better jobs for women: When women are employed in sectors with high levels of exports, they are more likely to be formally employed in a job with better benefits, training and security.
  • Trade increases women’s wages and increases economic equality: Developing countries that double their manufacturing exports—a typical increase for developing countries that open themselves to trade—would see women increase their share of total manufacturing wages from 24% to 30% through a combination of increased employment and higher salaries.




When Countries Trade, Women Win

By increasing trade, countries can help promote a more equitable future that benefits everyone.

Despite many advances, women across the world hold fewer jobs, are paid less, and are more likely to experience worse job conditions than men.

  • Fewer than one in two women works.
  • Among those who do work, 80% occupy medium- and low-skilled jobs.
  • Women are also overrepresented in the informal sector, with up to 90% of women informally employed in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  •  Just 3% of female employees in low-income countries are skilled workers.

Trade policy is inadvertently biased against women, resulting in lower levels of employment and higher prices for consumer goods.

A woman that is employed at a hotel in Papua New Guinea smiles while sitting at her computer

New trends in global trade—especially the rise in services, global value chains, and the digital economy—are opening up important economic opportunities for women. Photo: © Conor Ashleigh/World Bank

The lack of gender-specific data reinforces biases against women in trade policymaking. Sex-disaggregated data is necessary to assess how different policies and obstacles impact women and men differently.

  • This report makes use of a new dataset that for the first time allows researchers to see labor data at the industry level by gender, reducing subjectivity of trade-related analysis.
  • This data sheds light on how women are employed, in which industries they work, what their income is and whether or not they are involved in global trade.
  • This analysis helps governments understand how trade policies will affect women and men differently.

The changing global economy offers new opportunities for women through services, GVCs and digital technology.

  • More than two-thirds of women in developed countries were employed in the services sector in 2017, up from 45 percent in 1991. In developing countries, the proportion of women in the service sector jumped to 38 percent from 25 percent over the same period.
  • Countries are becoming more integrated with global value chains, which tend to create jobs and increase wages for women. GVC jobs tend to have positive, indirect benefits on other aspects of women’s livelihoods, such as education.
  • Digital technology and new online platforms create opportunities for women to bypass traditional trade barriers, expand their entrepreneurial skills and develop flexible careers that enable them to manage both work and household responsibilities.

Find also at WTO News

Original Post : World Bank News


Recently launched ecommerce training program and portal will help hundreds of women entrepreneurs in South Asian LDCs become part of regional and global supply chains.


It’s 1am and Thinley Yangzom has 60 boxes of teabags to pack. Her special superfood blend of ginger and the rare cordyceps fungus had been a hit with the tourists staying at her mother’s riverside farmhouse in Paro, Bhutan, but finding time to tend to her new business venture while rearing her eight-month-old son had not been easy.

“My business needs to be able to fit around my responsibilities as a mother, as a daughter and as a wife. This often meant that I was working on my business once everyone else had gone to bed,” said Yangzom.

As her business – Bhutan Super Food and Herbs – grew she saw an opportunity to sell her products to customers outside of Bhutan. But for this she would need an online store, and some help to set it up.

“While I am an IT graduate, setting up an online business is more complicated than just creating a website,” she said.

“The founder of a women’s entrepreneur association invited me to a workshop where other women entrepreneurs like me would be taught the basics of ecommerce. I was excited to learn more about this modern approach to business.”

And so, on a cold winter’s day in February, Yangzom arrived at the City Hotel in Bhutan’s capital ready for a two-day deep dive into the emerging world of ecommerce. Run by the South and South-West Asia Office of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), New Delhi with support from the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the national inception workshops are the first step in building an ecommerce training program for women entrepreneurs across South Asia.

“We have run workshops in NepalBangladesh and Bhutan so far with the aim of bringing together policymakers, women entrepreneurs, experts, industry and civil society to better understand and recognize each country’s challenges inimplementing ecommerce,” said Rajan Sudesh Ratna, Economic Affairs Officer at UNESCAP, New Delhi.

“These insights have helped us to develop tailor-made ecommerce training programs and an ecommerce portal that will assist at least 100 women entrepreneurs across Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to sell their goods and services online and become part of regional and global supply chains.”

Covering the basics

Most women in South Asia are employed in informal sectors, where they lack job security and a permanent income. When it comes to entrepreneurship, there is often a lack of societal support for women working outside their home.

“Ecommerce makes flexible working arrangements possible. It’s a powerful tool for empowering South Asian women entrepreneurs socially and economically,” said Deepali Gotadke, a consultant to the UNESCAP program who was the first ecommerce entrepreneur in her area of North Karnataka, India.

During the national inception workshops, Gotadke ran a session on digital marketing and ecommerce and found many of the women entrepreneurs lacked the technical skills needed to expand their businesses.

“As a result, we decided to offer an introductory course and manual for women entrepreneurs in our program that will cover the basics of ecommerce, social media and digital marketing,” she said.

While a taste of the course to come, Gotadke’s marketing session has already inspired Yangzom to think more strategically about using social media to market her products.

“We are thinking about getting famous people to review our products, which will help us reach a wider customer base,” she said.

Restrictive regulations

Workshop participants also identified policies that are making it challenging for ecommerce to flourish.

“From not allowing online transactions in international currencies, to central bank laws that make it hard for suppliers to offer refunds, it’s clear that some regulatory changes are also needed,” said Ratna.

“We are encouraging these changes to take place by initiating dialogues with policy makers in parallel with the capacity building program,” he said.

One of the ways that UNESCAP is working around such regulatory challenges is to develop an ecommerce portal that will host the online shops of women entrepreneurs participating in the programme.

“The portal will assist women with digitising and cataloguing their goods and services, it will provide a single payment gateway and it will give their businesses international exposure. This is all the more important for women entrepreneurs in this hour of crisis due to COVID-19,” Ratna said.

Outside world is waiting

Godatke sees lots of international potential, with the “outside world waiting for the handmade items these women have to offer.”

“When we open the portal to international markets, I would expect to see their business revenue doubling within 2-3 years,” she said.

After a year, the program will then assess the performance of the women and devise an advanced training course.

“We’ve had a strong response so far, with 150 women entrepreneurs already registered to take part in the program,” Ratna said.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions, the online course and virtual trainings for the women entrepreneurs will start in July 2020.

While COVID-19 has significantly slowed down Bhutan’s tourism industry and therefore Yangzom’s key customers, she sees ecommerce as a key way for her business to recover.

“Being able to sell online will not only make it possible for me to reach international customers, but it will also make my products more affordable for local people,” she said.

“With the support provided by this program, it will be faster and easier to grow my business than if I was to do it alone.”

by Michelle Kovacevic

Original Source : EIF News



The International Trade Centre today announced the release of the Spanish-language online platform of its SheTrades initiative. While having been active in Spanish-speaking countries for several years, the rollout of a Spanish-language platform will now enable more women entrepreneurs, buyers, and partners to participate fully in the successful initiative.

ITC SheTrades is continuing to boost its online offerings in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In parallel, it is also expanding its presence within and across Latin American countries. Now, users are able to fully navigate, the initiative’s online platform, in Spanish.

By joining the SheTrades community on, Spanish-speaking users can register to participate in numerous webinars, including many delivered in Spanish, and access past recordings at any time. For example, in a 10-webinar series entitled ‘La Ruta de la Exportación’ (2019), experts from various SheTrades partner organisations took women entrepreneurs through key aspects of becoming export-ready. This year, as the COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on millions of businesses, ITC SheTrades and partners have come together to deliver an emergency webinar series on how to cope. One of these series – ‘Preparando su negocio para después de COVID-19’ – has been adapted for a Lain American audience, and the region’s ‘post-COVID-19’ situation.

The main training hub for the initiative – SheTrades Virtual Learning – is also navigable for Spanish-speaking users. This contains 25 free, high quality e-learning modules that have been designed by experts and guide women entrepreneurs through the entire export journey. This means that regardless of their stage of export-readiness, they are able to access and learn relevant knowledge and skills. In addition, all publications, success stories, news, as well as user-generated content, is automatically translated for Spanish-speaking users.

Beyond the e-learning components, is also a place where women entrepreneurs can showcase their products and services, network, meet buyers, and strike deals. Not only this, they can also discover the exciting opportunities that the initiative has to offer, like part taking in international trade fairs and in-country workshops.

For example, women entrepreneurs in Mexico have the possibility of applying to be part of the SheTrades-UPS project, which harnesses expertise from both ITC and UPS to support women exporters and their technical competitiveness. Besides UPS, SheTrades partners in Latin America include AMMJE, Global BMT Consulting, FUNDES, ASPEN, 10,000 Mujeres por Mexico, WEConnect International, AMEXME, Ulead/OWIT Mexico, ProChile, ProColombia, PROMPERÚ and PRONAFIM. Stay up to date with the offers of these partnerships on

In 2019, SheTrades produced three inspiring films to highlight the ‘Faces of SheTrades‘ sponsored by UPS and directed by Malcolm Green, a celebrated film director. In conjunction with the launch of in Spanish, SheTrades and UPS have released ‘The Bee Queen’, a film featuring Anselma Chaleuan, a Mexican honey producer. Producing and exporting special Melipona honey from her small village of Xcunyá in the Yucatan province, Anselma’s strongest sense of purpose lies in preserving the endangered native Melipona bee population and empowering other women in her community. Watch the film at: and become a member of SheTrades at

Watch a short video to learn about the SheTrades Initiative with Spanish subtitles at: 

Original Source : ITC News



Deadline to submit applications: 31 August 2020, 23:59 ICT

Application Calendar

  • Posting date: 24/7/2020
  • Deadline to submit questions: 21/08/2020
  • Final deadline for applications: 31/08/2020 23:59 ICT

For any questions regarding the application process, please send inquiries to:

Applicants are encouraged to first read the Call for Research Proposals Guidelines. Applications must follow the submission format as outlined in the Proposal Application Form and Budget Proposal.

Applications must be returned to ESCAP by email to no later than 31 August 2020, 23:59 ICTPlease do not send files larger than 10 MB.


United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is issuing a Call for Research Proposals to undertake human centered design inspired research. The research should explore the nuanced challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in accessing financing at different stages of their enterprise journey and offer solutions to those challenges. The end objective of this applied research is to identify innovative financial solutions that can be developed or tailored to best address the needs and demands of women entrepreneurs.

The research outcome should address gaps in knowledge and improve the understanding of the business environment and financial constraints facing women entrepreneurs’ access and usage of financial services, in at least one of the following countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Nepal, Samoa and/or Viet Nam.

The research findings will be used to inform the design of private sector solutions that enhance different groups of women entrepreneurs’ access and use of financial services, as well as inspire replication of proposed solutions in the market. Additionally, the research will be made publicly available to contribute to the body of literature on barriers women enterprises face in accessing finance.

Research Approach

ESCAP encourages human centered design inspired research and welcomes applicants to devise innovative partnerships, strategies and alternative data collection approaches to gain granular demand-side insights from women entrepreneurs and validate these findings. For example innovative partnerships could consist of universities or non-profits, partnered with telecommunication service providers, financial service providers or other relevant institutions.

It is important for applicants to consider cost effective, timely, yet robust methodologies for data collection. These can include but are not limited to big data analysis, lean data methodologies with enabling technologies such as SME or computer-assisted telephone interviewing, etc.

Applicant Benefits

Successful applications will receive:

  • Up to US$ 25,000 in funding to undertake the research;
  • Support from ESCAP’s Research Technical Advisory Group, which will provide technical advice in research design and peer reviews of the research outputs;
  • Publication of the research, subject to United Nations standards and publication guidelines;
  • The chance for the research to inform the design of private sector financial solutions for women entrepreneurs.


Applicants are encouraged to create coalitions and partnerships to undertake the research. The lead applicant, must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Not-for-profit organization
  • Government entity
  • United Nations entity or multi-lateral organization
  • Individual researcher

Private sector institutions are also encouraged to apply, however must partner with one of the 4 categories of eligible “lead partners” listed above. The private sector applicant must therefore be a partner to the lead applicant.

Geographic Scope of Research

Applicants can be based anywhere globally, however the research must focus on women entrepreneurs in one or several of the following countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Nepal, Samoa and/or Viet Nam. No other geographic coverage will be considered for funding.

While applicants can be based anywhere globally. It is encouraged that applicants who apply from countries other than 6 target countries, partner with a local institution.

Application Guidelines

Before applying please download the Call for Research Proposals Guidelines, which provides full details on the application process and requirements.

It is also suggested to review the Background Note which provides information on the key challenges facing women entrepreneurs in the respective countries and highlights research gaps and sample research questions.


Please download and complete the following documents as part of the application process:

  1. Proposal Application Template
  2. Budget Proposal
  3. Annex 1: Submission Confirmation Letter

Applications must follow the submission format as outlined in the Proposal Application Template and Budget Proposal template.

Please also ensure that the following annexes are submitted with the application (no template has been provided for these documents and the applicant is welcome to use any format):

Annex 2 – Resume/CV’s of all project team members involved in the project

Annex 3 – Proof of the organization’s not-for-profit status (if applicable)

Annex 4 – Partner institution letter of intent (if applicable)

Additional Information

The winning applicant is expected to sign a Letter of Agreement (Grant Agreement) with ESCAP or in the case of individual applicants, the individual will enter into a consulting agreement. A sample of the ESCAP Agreement Terms and Conditions for Letters of Agreement has been made available and a sample of the General Conditions of Contracts for the Services of Consultants or Individual Contractors has also been made available.


This research call is part of the Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on STI Policy (ARTNET on STI Policy). ARTNET on STI Policy is the knowledge platform on science, technology and innovation policies for sustainable development. By means of research, information dissemination and capacity building, ARTNET on STI provides guidance on STI policies to researchers and policymakers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship

The Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project is a five-year initiative, aimed at addressing three key overarching barriers faced by women entrepreneurs: (1) enabling policy environment and regulatory challenges, (2) access to finance, and (3) use of information and communication technologies (ICT) by women entrepreneurs. Overall, the project aims to crowd-in investment capital, competition and innovation, and increase the range and reach of services supporting women entrepreneurs.

The project is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.


ICTs are a powerful tool to alleviate barriers faced by women entrepreneurs.


The impact of the COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on doing business worldwide since the beginning of 2020 have made the need to use ICTs imperative for the survival of small businesses. The digital platforms provide a large scope of opportunities for women entrepreneurs to set up and expand their businesses, maintain and create new networks in order to develop and implement their ideas in many sectors, from advertisement and the provision of various services to consulting industries and agriculture. By acquiring knowledge on how to manage and navigate digital technologies women entrepreneurs are becoming more competitive and resilient to abrupt changes.

How to use these tools and make them work for gender equality were among the key questions discussed at the international online workshop “Use of ICTs for the Promotion and Implementation of Gender Equality in Small Business Development” (22 June – 2 July)  organized by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) and MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in cooperation with UNECE. It is part of a long-standing fruitful cooperation with MASHAV and MCTC on gender activities in the areas of information sharing and capacity building for professional women from Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

23 women and men from government institutions and SME’s support and innovation agencies, NGOs dealing with small business support and development, private sector and chambers of entrepreneurs met virtually to widen their knowledge and acquire new skills on how to use ICTs and implement them in projects and activities with a gender lens.

Workshop participants received training in specific tools and digital applications, networking and business psychology; they explored and discussed various business models that can help them to set up and successfully manage their businesses. They addressed ways in which new technologies can influence small business management, discussed networking skills, gender mainstreaming and the use of ICTs, and business thinking development. Participants shared their experience in developing platforms, projects and programmes which include women both as providers and beneficiaries of these services.

Representatives from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan discussed opportunities and current obstacles for women entrepreneurs to advance in using ICTs. While progress in applying ICTs with a gender lens varies across countries, rural and urban regions, as well as economic sectors, a range of common barriers exist. Lack of financing, insufficient information and insufficient role models for women using and developing ICTs, were highlighted as key challenges in many sectors and countries.


Original source : UNECE News


Negotiators can use this new report to lift the participation of women in trade through free trade agreements.

It’s no secret that mainstreaming gender in free trade agreements creates more inclusiveness. Yet most accords don’t even mention gender – and those that do, typically fail to offer women the same opportunities as men to participate in trade.

The International Trade Centre’s new report, Mainstreaming Gender in Free Trade Agreements, addresses this shortfall with 10 key recommendations for the design, content and scope of trade deals.

Drafting accords with gender explicit preambles, explicit access to skill development and compulsory dispute settlement mechanisms are among the recommendations in the report, launched at a joint event with the Organization of Women in International Trade.

‘This publication answers the call of policymakers and trade negotiators to provide a practical guide to create more inclusive accords,’ said Dorothy Tembo, ITC Executive Director a.i. ‘Gender mainstreaming ensures that these agreements promote more equitable opportunities rather than perpetuate inequalities.’

More than a quarter of the 292 agreements in force today and notified to the World Trade Organization have at least one provision that explicitly mentions gender. ‘The last three years have been phenomenal in this respect,’ the report says.

This report builds on analysis of 73 trade pacts in Commonwealth countries, and the results are similar.  Just 28% use best practices to mainstream gender concerns, meaning they have considerable scope to improve. Only 5% are advanced, as they use best practices and need little or no upgrade, and 40% make no explicit reference at all to gender considerations.

Change is under way, however, as governments increasingly recognize that taking account of the differences between men and women makes good business sense, the report says.

Tools for policymakers, negotiators and researchers

The most important takeaways from the analysis are summarized in 10 recommendations showing where to embed gender provisions in an accord, what specific actions are needed to create equal opportunities for women and how to ensure that the measures have teeth.

Ten model clauses accompany the recommendations, providing ready-made legal language to simplify the work of policymakers and trade negotiators.

The report also features a tool that allows policymakers and researchers to track national performance on gender in existing trade agreements, as well as new agreements underway.

Among the challenges to mainstreaming gender in trade agreements are a lack of awareness that these accords empower women, and too little data that tracks specifically the impact on women in business. In some cases, the lack of political will or inadequate expertise on gender issues among negotiators is a factor, the report says.

‘The impact of gender mainstreaming on women and trade will only become visible with the passage of time,’ it says. In the meantime, the guide presented in the report can help countries move in that direction.

Original Post ITC News



For over 25 years working across Africa, we’ve seen that women are disproportionally excluded from essential services, despite their potential as catalysts for socio-economic development.


While they are not a homogenous group, their needs are systematically overlooked – and governments can change that. We are reminded every day that policies and regulations are critical to ensure financial inclusion, especially in a dynamic globalized economy.

A year ago, in July 2019, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) published a groundbreaking report outlining how the seven leading global economies (G7) can support the financial inclusion of women in Africa. It describes how governments, central banks, and financial institutions can build inclusive, sustainable, and responsible digital financial systems to ensure financial inclusion for 400 million people, nearly 60% of whom are women. The report, A G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa offers recommendations in three areas: infrastructure, regulation, and planning.

Who could have imagined that, exactly a year later, a pandemic would accelerate the adoption of digital financial services (DFS) to fight the contagious virus. While this trend is encouraging, it also brought to the fore longstanding questions of inequalities, and we must remain vigilant to avoid creating a new digital divide.

High levels of collaboration, innovation, and ambition are crucial to advance this agenda. We are partnering with the BMGF and the French Ministry of Finance to support governments seeking to promote safe, competitive, and inclusive DFS. Through the UNCDF programme Africa Policy Accelerator, we provide policymakers and regulators in 18 countries the technical inputs and assistance to implement digital financial regulations that address the needs of low-income communities.

Boosting women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment is an integral part of that mandate. UNCDF has been chosen as one of the organizations to play a leadership role in the Generation Equality Forum, a civil society–centred, multi-stakeholder global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France. We are ready to co-lead the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition and will join the rallying point on 7 July 2020 to symbolically mark the initial opening date of the Forum in Paris, which was meant to gather gender equality actors from around the world, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As the world grapples with unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, we need to sustain efforts to expand digital financial inclusion to women across the African continent. When women – especially those living in poor and marginalized communities in Africa – can access financial services, it opens up opportunities and builds resilience. They can secure payments for healthcare and education, store savings safely, borrow to start or develop small businesses or insure and protect their families against life’s hazards such as medical emergencies and natural disasters. An increasing number of African governments consider gender-inclusive finance to be a high priority. It is time to fix the financial inclusion gender gap.

About our vision for Women as Builders of the Digital Economy

Original Source : UNCDF News



Amel Saidane is a Tunisian entrepreneur and a digital transformation expert. She is also the President of Tunisian Start-ups, and member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.

In July 2020, she will be a speaker in the Spotlight Session of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) international online conference, “Women in Industry and Innovation”.

Saidane wasn’t always the open-to-unknowns entrepreneur role model she is today. She spent the first ten years of her professional life in a corporate environment, where the problems were manageable by design.

From a corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur

When she first decided to start her own business, she was scared. “I loved it because I could move without boundaries,” she says. “But the parameters were countless and unpredictable. How should I manage it?”.

This problem required a whole new mind-set: Saidane realized that, as an entrepreneur, she had to let go of micromanaging. “If you’re building something from scratch, you can’t control everything,” she says, “So don’t do it, and welcome all the steps”.

Which to her means moving forward and knowing that even a misstep could bring new competences. “The keyword is resilience. We should never step back in a crisis,” she says.

This is the reason why Saidane is convinced that during the coronavirus outbreak we could learn a lot from entrepreneurs, because of their capacity to manage things in unpredictable times.

Female entrepreneurs as multidimensional talents

Saidane believes women to be very good at handling multiple tasks simultaneously. She observed that her best performances came with having a set of different tracks she could connect.

“The plan is not linear, but multidimensional,” she explains, and invites her peers not to be afraid to test new things. “You’ll fall and stand up again” is her motto.

It is no surprise that Saidane encourages women to pursue tech careers and fight for leading positions, if they want to.

She believes women’s natural inclinations to fit the profile required for leaders in the digital age. In her vision, the old pyramid-shaped system will be replaced by flatter organizations divided into sub-groups, and this type of agile structure will require a lot of flexibility and more of a listening-and-giving-space approach to communications –  “something that women leaders can do very well”, she explains.

Why women are underrepresented in top jobs

Unfortunately, women are still under-represented in top jobs. “I think it’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” Saidane comments.

She believes that, as long as women are not equally represented in policymaking, policies will be defined by a male-only perspective.

She also states that women are not equally represented in funding and investing either. “More than 95% of capital investment in the world is invested by men in men and this leaves peanuts to women,” she clarifies.

In Saidane’s vision, as long as women are not deciding what kind of projects are going to be funded, female leaders will be a minority.

She appreciates the fact that UNIDO is bringing women’s perspectives in women-related debates. “It is not about discussing women issues for the sake of it, but about having the proper discussion and include women” she says.

The African tech response to Covid19 and the idea of a Digital Arabian Network

Going back to technology, Saidane has recently joined the UN Economic Commission for Africa analyzing the tech response to COVID-19. She reports that coronavirus has been a sort of wake-up call to move faster.

“We have noticed that we should have used technology more,” she points out, adding that the importance of digital transformation in Africa is now more evident than ever.

A deep knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and being a self-defined, “digital transformation enthusiast” also brought her to believe that the MENA countries should strategically think of digitalization as an opportunity to unite and become one digital partner state.

She’s sure that if the MENA countries keep bringing their own “mini and not meaningful” platforms, they will never be able to compete. “The countries with the largest platforms have access to the largest amounts of data and control everything in the world,” she underlines.

Therefore, she hopes for a digital collaboration between the MENA countries and this idea is not only theoretical because Amel Saidane is also a member of the Digital Arabian Network, which is inviting the digital players of the region on board under the motto “Connect. Transform. Create.”.

We Mean It

Saidane’s aim for the future is to have new projects developed and to keep advising on the potential of the MENA region, in terms of technological innovation.

Her final message relaunches UNIDO’s tagline for the Promoting Women’s Empowerment campaign: “We mean it,” Saidane says, “Be serious about meaning it, because we seriously mean it.”

by Lucia Conti

Original Source : UNIDO Stories


The eTrade for all initiative has been further strengthened, with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Labour Organization joining the partnership.


COVID-19 has irreversibly changed the way we do things, showing the critical role of digital solutions that have kept businesses running and helped reduce the spread of the virus.

However, many developing countries are still struggling to make use of e-commerce and other digital tools.

At the same time, the momentum to ensure the digital economy becomes more inclusive is growing, championed by the eTrade for all initiative, which has just welcomed the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to its fold, increasing its membership to 32 organizations.

The partnership, marking its fourth anniversary this month, has become even more important in light of the pandemic as countries seek to foster new strategies for economic recovery.

E-commerce is expected to be at the vanguard of the recovery efforts as the world moves farther online.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat is delighted to join the eTrade for all community,” said chief of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Patricia Scotland.

“Without our collective efforts, there is a real risk that many individuals, businesses and even countries may be left behind by digitalization and excluded from participating effectively in the digital economy,” Ms. Scotland said.

She added: “By leveraging the strengths of multiple stakeholders, we can help ensure individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses across the world are empowered to harness the benefits of e-commerce for inclusive and sustainable development.”

The ILO is actively engaged in the debates on the digital economy and identifying knowledge gaps related to digital skills, working conditions and social protection.

“We’re excited to join the partnership and look forward to making an important contribution to it,” said Vic van Vuuren, director of enterprises at the ILO.

“E-commerce is a futuristic catalyst for economic growth, reducing the social deficit and caring for the planet whilst entrenching a decent work agenda,” he said.

Strong commitment, consolidating efforts

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi commended the partnership for its strong commitment to ensuring no one is left behind in the digital economy despite the vagaries of the global landscape.

“I’m delighted to witness the increasing number of eTrade for all partners in all of the initiative’s growing activities,” Dr. Kituyi said.

“To ensure no one is left behind in the digital economy, the international community needs to work more, not less, together,” he added.

The partnership has grown and deepened. In the past year, it reached a significant milestone, with two external evaluations held over the last few months lauding its sterling work in leveraging the expertise and resources of all partners working together.

The evaluations acknowledged that the partnership is making the digital economy more inclusive, thanks to its role as a transparent and efficient “global digital help desk”.

The first virtual eWeek 2020, held in April, to which many eTrade for all partners contributed, illustrated that, even with various lockdown measures and travel restrictions, it’s possible to hold global, multistakeholder development dialogues.

The event comprised a set of 14 online webinars and high-level policy dialogues that discussed, among others, how to leverage the contribution of e-commerce to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Solid and trusted catalyst for partnerships

The eTrade for all initiative has evolved into a solid, trusted, neutral and useful source of information and a potent catalyst for partnerships across the digital economy’s global landscape.

Through shared purpose, the partners have collaborated to connect the dots for gainful benefit from e-commerce and the digital economy in developing countries.

They have also generated widely acknowledged and critical programmes, such as the eTrade readiness assessments and the eTrade for Women initiative.

The partnership and its spin-off activities received funds in 2019 and 2020 from Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.

Learn more about the partnership’s impact and activities carried out in the past year in its Year in Review 2019-2020.


Masterclass seeks to empower and build the skills of women digital entrepreneurs in East Africa as well as explore opportunities amid the COVID-19 crisis.


Advocates from UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative are working hard to ensure women digital entrepreneurs in the developing world are building both the network and resilience they need to thrive in the digital economy now and in a post-coronavirus context.

The first virtual masterclass for East African women digital entrepreneurs, to be held from 8 to 10 July, is well timed to advance this cause.

It brings together women founders of digital businesses from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, reflecting the dynamism and variety of the digital landscape in the region.

The women share the drive to acquire new skills, make a positive impact in their communities and help them recover better from the economic blow of COVID-19.

While the pandemic is a human health and economic tragedy, it is also an accelerator for digital transformation and e-commerce.

“We need to use this moment to ensure women, especially those in the developing world, have a seat at the table and are able to harness the digital gains,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.

The e-commerce potential

Following the first two in-person masterclass sessions in North Macedonia and Côte d’Ivoire, the masterclass for East Africa seeks to tap into and build on the digital momentum in the region.

Like much of Africa, the region has low internet penetration. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2019 only 28% of Africans used the internet.

Of the total African population, 34% of those using the internet are men, while only  23% are women.

Online shoppers are also relatively few. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa are the only countries where the share of online shoppers exceeds 8%. In most other countries, it is below 5%.

Internet subscriptions and smartphones are relatively costly, contributing to the low rates of e-commerce in the region. Other factors include weak and unsupportive policy and regulatory frameworks.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating digital transformation globally, the window of opportunity offered by e-commerce is widening.

Learning to thrive in times of crisis

The three-day event targets established women digital entrepreneurs from selected East African countries and includes networking, learning and policy engagement sessions.

It will be hosted by eTrade for Women advocate for anglophone Africa, Clarisse Iribagiza from Rwanda, CEO and co-founder of HeHe Limited, in conjunction with eTrade for all partners, thanks to support from the Netherlands.

Emphasizing the role of the digital economy in promoting development, Ms. Iribagiza said small businesses need technology to level up.

“Small businesses create lots of jobs and help solve local problems,” she said. “But they face many challenges such as high cost of production, lack of access to energy and poor infrastructure. Technology can help reduce their costs and enable them to operate more efficiently.”

Ms. Iribagiza said the masterclass would help women digital entrepreneurs better harness the benefits of the digital transformation of their economies and societies.

Tackling urgent business needs

The masterclass will tackle the entrepreneurs’ most urgent business needs, from designing a value proposition canvas to rebooting business post-COVID-19 and going from local to regional markets, offering them practical solutions for their businesses.

Experienced trainers will lead sessions tailored to help the entrepreneurs thrive in the digital economy while operating more resilient businesses in times of crisis.

In addition, the event is a unique opportunity to examine gender-related challenges and foster more inclusive policymaking.

It includes a high-level policy dialogue on creating a vibrant digital economy in times of COVID-19, which will feature case studies and best practices from some East African countries.

The session to be held on 10 July is open to the public and will be broadcast live.

The masterclass is one of the ways that UNCTAD is helping build communities of female digital entrepreneurs in developing countries, while advocating for an environment conducive to more inclusive digital policymaking.

The eTrade for Women initiative is supported by the Netherlands and Sweden in cooperation with eTrade for all partners.


Rwanda is renowned as a pioneer for gender equality. In 2020, it was the only African country ranked in the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. It ranked in the top four in the Report’s political empowerment category, in recognition of the high proportion of Rwandese women lawmakers and ministers.


The country therefore seemed a natural fit for a 2018 pilot program of the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment initiative, with Nigeria, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

The Coding for Employment flagship program is establishing 130 ICT centers for excellence in Africa, training 234,000 youths for employability and entrepreneurship to create over 9 million jobs.

Hendrina C. Doroba, Manager in the Education, Human Capital and Employment Division at the Bank, explains how Rwanda is empowering women in technology.

How has the government of Rwanda enabled women to pursue careers in technology, and STEM in general?

The government of Rwanda has been a foremost champion of women in ICT and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM), by driving initiatives like the establishment of the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa campus, for which the Bank provided funding. Students from 17 different countries pursue highly specialized ICT skills at the Africa campus.

The country also hosts the African Institute of Mathematics (AIMS) which is now recruiting balanced cohorts of women and men. Lastly, the Bank-funded University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology has for many years produced women leaders in the ICT sector in Rwanda and globally.

Rwanda’s government also supports initiatives such as the Miss Geek Rwanda competition, an initiative of Girls in ICT Rwanda, which aims to encourage school-age girls, even those in remote areas, to develop innovative tech or business ideas and to generally immerse themselves in ICT. The Miss Geek initiative has now been rolled out in other countries in the region.


What role has the Bank played in supporting Rwanda’s digital strategy, especially in relation to women?

The strategy of the Bank’s Coding for Employment center of excellence in Rwanda has been to join forces with the Rwanda Coding Academy through a grant agreement to support the school’s activities, like ICT equipment, teacher training and career orientation. The Rwanda Coding Academy started in January 2019 and has so far enrolled one cohort, which is now going into their second year.

Besides the Rwanda Coding Academy, the Bank’s Coding for Employment program held a two-day masterclass for girls and young women entrepreneurs at the 2018 Youth Conneckt summit, where over 200 beneficiaries were trained in using digital tools to amplify their businesses. The session was attended by women entrepreneurs as well as students from girl schools in Kigali, including those from White Dove School, which is an all-girl school fully dedicated to training in ICT. The masterclass culminated into a pitching exercises from various groups who presented their ideas to a panel of judges.

What lessons can other African countries learn from Rwanda’s approach to the 4IR, in particular the role of women?

The government of Rwanda has been a trailblazer in using innovation to improve public services across the country using the e-governance platform Irembo, to bring government services closer to citizens. In addition, the government is driving national digital skilling campaigns by championing digital ambassador programs and platforms such as Smart Africa, which has organized the annual Transform Africa summit since 2013.

Still, gender equality remains a concern, and gender gaps are evident even in schools. Rwanda’s ambitions extend to piloting the Kigali Innovation City, also Bank-funded, to serve as the country’s knowledge and innovation hub by attracting new businesses and incubating ideas. At the same time, the country has created a business environment which is pro-entrepreneurship and welcomes global inventors to test their ideas and concepts. Zipline, a company which uses drones to deliver medical supplies in remote areas, is one example.

Lastly, Rwanda promotes women leaders in the ICT and innovation sector. The country’s Minister of ICT and Innovation is a woman, as is the CEO of the Irembo platform. Appointments such as these are helping to dispel the myth that women are not as capable as men in ICT.

Original Source : African Development Bank Group News


Why did we have to wait for a pandemic of this magnitude to realize that digital access should be universal? Why do people tend to assume that tech is gender neutral? These are some of the questions asked at a recent World Bank Live event cohosted by the World Bank Digital Development Global Practice and CES, the global stage for innovation, in the context of a Global Tech Challenge cosponsored by both organizations.

“I can’t think of a better cause than contributing to close the digital gender divide. This is particularly the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, when digital technologies have become our lifeline. The crisis may in fact reinforce the digital gender divide, including through its impact on girls’ education. Now is the time to do something about it,” said Boutheina Guermazi, director of Digital Development at the World Bank, who gave the opening remarks. At 51% (versus 67% in 2017), South Asia still holds the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s widest gender gap, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, at 37%. Why should we be worried? The answer is simple: the digital divide could increasingly prevent women from accessing life-enhancing services for education, health, and financial inclusion in a world that has become virtual overnight.

Ellen Savage, Vice President of Membership, for the Consumer Technology Association, the trade association representing the U.S. consumer technology industry and host of CES, shared her excitement to see the tech and development community join forces as part of a Global Tech Challenge which calls on the tech community to help tackle gender inequality through access to digital technology.

Amrote Abdella, regional director of Microsoft 4Afrika and Regina Honu, a software entrepreneur from Ghana and founder of Soronko Academy, the first coding and human-centered design school in West Africa, both insisted on the importance to encourage girls to pursue STEM as a career while continuing to challenge gender norms.  “You can’t have women in tech if you don’t have girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), said Abdella, “which is why it’s so important to promote STEM within the education system.” Regina Honu shared that her entrepreneurial journey started with a lot of self-doubt but pointed out that she was able to take an innovative idea and impact millions of people just with a click of a button. “Tech is the new superpower,” she said. But women and girls need extra attention. For instance, during the pandemic, Honu realized that some of the girls who were attending her digital skills program couldn’t spend as much time online because they had to help with household chores. “We had to find innovative ways to spread content via WhatsApp and ways to keep mentoring them,” she said.  “We have to keep the momentum going. This is not a one-time engagement. This is a lifetime commitment,” she added.

Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), and longtime advocate of gender equality in development, gave a passionate plea for bridging the digital gender gap. “Did we really need COVID-19 to show the world that digital inequality was the reality that we live in? I don’t think we need COVID-19 for that. But because we have it, we need to make the best of it,” she said. “What this crisis shows is that if you call something a crisis, people start mobilizing and acting. Why don’t we do that on an ongoing basis? How can we ask governments from Panama to Uganda to South Africa to not only implement policy actions that will bring connectivity to women because there is a crisis but have them realize that addressing the real needs of women and girls in their countries should be part of their day-to-day policymaking?,” she asked.

Now should have been yesterday. It’s time to mobilize.

Original Source : World Bank News


How women entrepreneurs are availing the opportunity to go on-line for doing business in the COVID-19 era

Shifting to e-commerce is now crucial for many small and medium businesses. But making online sales requires more than just a website. It is vital to invest in digital marketing to draw significant customer traffic.

For women entrepreneurs, it has become a question of survival.

As small and medium-sized companies find themselves looking for innovative ways to keep their business alive during these tricky times, women entrepreneurs, in particular, have been hit hard economically by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that there are solutions. It’s just a matter of timely and effective adoption.

A remarkable example is being set in Central America with support from the International Trade Centre. To make the purchase of virtual products closer to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, Central American women entrepreneurs are using high quality material and embracing technologies that augment product reality. They are developing new products, optimising their online shops and launching social media campaigns to keep their business alive to increase their customer base.

During the last few months, some of these businesses have received more than 170 online orders through their own web shops, Etsy or eBay stores from customers in Europe, USA, Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia and Australia.

Securing raw materials and supplies at a time when their traditional sources are at risk of disruption is equally important.

In addition, to help Central American businesses keep up their production during the pandemic, the International Trade Centre (ITC) together with the Secretaria de Integración Economica Centroamericana (SIECA)  organised a week of virtual business-to-business meetings.

Held late last month, these meetings connected over 150 suppliers of raw materials and handicraft businesses through the Red Centroamericana de Comercio (RCAC). More than 60 women craft businesses identified new sources of supply and gained insight into the input offerings in the region. The suppliers were able to display their products and services via the online platform. More than 300 virtual business meetings took place.

A similar event will be organized at the end of the year for an online sale of finished products.

The international Trade Centre is supporting women craft businesses in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama to increase their presence online.

Central American women craft businesses are also receiving remote support through e-commerce community engagement platform developed by the ITC e‑commerce programme “ecomConnect” where they are connected with e-commerce experts and e-commerce businesses, access free e-commerce learning resources and stay up to date with the latest tech news.

The initiative is part of the EU-funded project, Linking Central American Women-Owned Businesses with the Global Gifts and Home Decoration Market which is implemented by ITC in collaboration with SIECA and local partner institutions.

Original Source : ITC News



In today’s ultra-connected world, the fact that the mobile gender gap has significantly narrowed is welcome news. Recent research by GSMA shows that in low-and-middle countries, women are 20% less likely to use mobile internet than men,  down from 27% three years earlier, a reduction driven primarily by a significant improvement in South Asia. While this is cause for celebration, we have way more work to do in order to close the gender gap. This is particularly the case during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), when digital technologies have become our lifeline. The crisis may in fact reinforce the digital gender divide, including through its impact on girls’ education. Now is the time to do something about it.


Three hundred million fewer women than men in low-and middle-income countries have access to mobile internet. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the United States. At 51% (versus 67% in 2017), South Asia still holds the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s widest gender gap, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, at 37%. Why should we be worried? The digital divide could increasingly prevent women from accessing life-enhancing services for education, health, and financial inclusion in a world that has become virtual overnight.

As the digital transformation affects economies and changes the nature of work, strategies to make sure technology becomes a great equalizer—rather than a divider—are essential.

Continue reading on World Bank Blogs


Digital platforms have been the hidden hero of the COVID-19 crisis.


Global networks are being taxed to the limit. Operators and platforms are reporting huge surges in traffic, as the world transitioned almost overnight to online working, schooling, shopping and socializing.

Some providers are reporting demand spikes as high as 800% – surge levels that would have surely quickly knocked out other kinds of infrastructure.

We understood that digital resources were going to be absolutely critical in this global health emergency, and we moved quickly to set up our REG4COVID platform to serve as a repository of emergency actions that the digital community around the world is taking to ensure the continued availability, accessibility and resilience of networks and resources.

The list of actions and initiatives is impressive – and it continues to grow.

Here are just some of the latest examples:

  • An emergency session of the UN Broadband Commission announced three-pillared Agenda for Action for governments and the digital community to support not just first-response efforts, but the rebuilding of the global economy, post-crisis, focusing on access, resilience and online safety.
  • The World Bank, GSMA, the World Economic Forum and ITU launched a 5-point Action Plan to leverage digital technologies and infrastructure to support citizens, governments and businesses; stressing the need for bandwidth, accessible connectivity, digital financial services, online trust and safety, and big data.
  • We also found ways to tap into the 2G market by partnering with WHO, UNICEF and global operators to deliver accurate and timely health messaging via mobiles to the estimated two billion people who still rely on a 2G connection.

With 1.5 billion children now out of school, we’re working to accelerate our efforts with UNICEF and governments to expand our GIGA partnership to connect every school, with the aim of also making schools into community hubs for the delivery of vital services.

Continue reading : ITU News


Youma Dieng Fall, co-founder of PayDunya and member of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women community, shares how the business has adapted to the coronavirus crisis, bouncing back stronger from the shock


“My first thought was, ‘How will we survive?’” says Youma Dieng Fall, co-founder of PayDunya, an e-payment solution company based in Dakar, Senegal.


The date was 23 March and the country’s president, Macky Sall, had just declared a nationwide state of emergency to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus in the west African country.

Within a week, 70% of the company’s clients had ceased their business activities.


“As a startup in a fast-moving, competitive market, we had overcome many challenges,” she says, “but nothing prepares you for something like this.”


Since opening in 2016, PayDunya had enjoyed steady growth. The company’s employees increased from zero to more than 50 in less than four years, and its portfolio of clients spread beyond Senegal’s borders, into Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.

But many clients were in the tourism industry – one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – and no longer required the company’s web and mobile payment solutions.

Youma Fall
Ms. Fall at the UNCTAD masterclass in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire


“I had never imagined such a scenario,” she says. “It was like watching a movie. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”


New doors open

Just as some doors closed, others began to open as social distancing and heightened concerns over hygiene restricted cash transactions and pushed more business operations online.


“We started receiving phone calls from businesses desperately in need of digital payment solutions,” she says. Many were from new sectors, such as agribusinesses and pharmacies. Others had been wary before.


In recent weeks, the company has picked up a record number of new clients. Ms. Fall and her team are helping west African businesses limit financial loss from the crisis and advance financial inclusion in a region where more people have mobile money accounts than bank accounts.


“Our goal is to simplify the digitalization of sales, payments and management for all African companies regardless of size or field of activity,” she says, “knowing that they are all operating on a continent were more than 60% of the population is unbanked.”


The company has not only faced major business challenges but has also had to overcome the difficulties of confinement and telecommuting – a new way of working for most employees.


“Working from home isn’t common in Dakar or other areas where we operate,” she says, adding that the company is providing internet credit on employees’ work phones to help ensure they have a reliable connection outside the office.


Lessons from the crisis

PayDunya’s experience offers lessons that could help businesses in the region mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic, which could cost Africa about 20 million jobs, according to a study by the African Union.


“The crisis is creating many challenges but also opportunities for those who can work digitally,” Ms. Fall says.


When the crisis hit, PayDunya quickly put in place measures to ensure business continuity and staff safety.

Youma’s Tips

  • Strengthen hygiene measures
  • Prioritize teleworking
  • Be a compassionate leader
  • Step up client support

Besides applying the hygiene measures recommended by the World Health Organization, the company limited exposure at work by having all employees shift to teleworking and stopped face-to-face sales meetings, unless absolutely necessary.


“We also prescribed for all employees a number of health measures to observe while working at home or for when they absolutely must meet with clients in person,” Ms. Fall says.


Importantly, she says, the management team took such decisions proactively, before the government’s measures, allowing PayDunya time to test teleworking before the country was put in partial lockdown.

Ms. Fall adds that in a remote working scenario, discipline and leadership become even more essential as team members juggle work with new responsibilities at home and cope with isolation.


“There’s now no one around to see what you’re doing,” she says. “And managers can’t rely on spontaneous discussions or office visits to check on their team.”


She recommends holding daily calls and debriefs to make sure everyone understands the priorities and tasks a hand, and to quickly identify potential setbacks.

It also helps keep team morale up and allows managers to make sure staff are adjusting, professionally and personally.

Ms. Fall says PayDunya knows it must take care of its employees if they are going to in turn watch after the clients during these difficult times.


“We strive for our clients, especially in times of crisis,” she says. “We’ve established a financial and logistical support plan for those most affected.”


eTrade for Women community

Ms. Fall is part of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women community in Francophone Africa.

She participated in the masterclass held in Abidjan in February, which allowed her to build new business relationships with other women digital entrepreneurs across the region, such as Elodie Atekossode from Benin, whose software development company has since agreed on a revenue sharing arrangement with PayDunya.

The UNCTAD eTrade for Women initiative aims to harness the promise of digital technologies and the power of female entrepreneurship to accelerate wealth creation and poverty reduction in developing countries. It’s part of the eTrade for All initiative and supported by the Netherlands.



Today is global Girls in ICT Day – and as the world continues to face the COVID-19 global health emergency, it is more important now than ever.

At a time when schools, offices and places of social activity are closed around the world, technology is helping us communicate, work, learn.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights exactly why girls and women need to be empowered to use technology.

There is a substantial divide between women and men and between girls and boys in Internet access and use today. In 2019, ​the proportion of women using the Internet globally is 48 per cent, compared to 58 per cent of men.

When women and girls have access to the Internet, they have the opportunity to start new businesses, sell products to new markets, find better-paid jobs and access education as well as health and financial services. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this takes on new importance: If women do not have access to the Internet, they are unable to access vital health information, along with education and employment.

That is why we believe that every day is Girls in ICT Day.

International Girls in ICT Day is an ITU initiative and global movement to promote the exciting career opportunities waiting for girls and young women in the tech sector. Since 2011, more than 362,000 girls and young women have taken part in more than 11,000 celebrations in 171 countries worldwide.

This year is no different. Because we cannot celebrate Girls in ICT Day 2020 in person, virtual celebrations are taking place all over the world to encourage and empower girls and young women in tech.

People around the world are getting creative on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, with engaging messaging, images, videos and more. They are connecting on Zoom, Skype, Jabber, Facetime, Houseparty and other collaboration platforms to connect remotely to discuss effective strategies to bridge the digital gender divide and get more girls into tech.

The 24-hour World Tour of Girls in ICT Day Celebrations highlight some of these events from Spain to Mali, Belarus, Jamaica, Mexico, and beyond!

EQUALS will host a Twitter chat focusing on ‘Digital Superheroes’ who serve as role models and build programs to help girls follow their tech dreams. Watch live on the @EQUALS Twitter feed from 15:30 – 16:30 CEST on 23 April 2020, and participate using the hashtags #GenderTechImpact and #GirlsinICT.

In the meantime, let’s work to Make Every Day a Girls in ICT Day!

(It is important to note that while technology and specifically the Internet can provide many benefits and endless supply of knowledge and information, it may pose many risks and harm, especially where children are concerned. That is why ITU and COP partners have created Guidelines for Child Online Protection (COP), for a safer and more secure cyber world.)

Original Source : ITU News


The coronavirus speeds up the transition to a digital economy while exposing the digital gap between countries and societies.

The global crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed us further into a digital world, and changes in behaviour are likely to have lasting effects when the economy starts to pick up. But not everyone is ready to embrace a more digitized existence.

new analysis from UNCTAD maps the changing digital landscape since the last major global calamity, the 2008/09 financial crisis. It looks at how a digitally enabled world is working for some, but not all equally.

According to the analysis, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools, and services, speeding up the global transition towards a digital economy.

However, it has also exposed the wide chasm between the connected and the unconnected, revealing just how far behind many are on digital uptake.

“Inequalities in digital readiness hamper the ability of large parts of the world to take advantage of technologies that help us cope with the coronavirus pandemic by staying at home,” said UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director, Shamika Sirimanne.

“This situation has significant development implications that cannot be ignored. We need to ensure that we do not leave those who are less digitally equipped even further behind in a post-coronavirus world.”



• E-commerce has the potential to level the economic playing field for women in developing countries.

• Government, the private sector, aid programmes and civil society need to team up to ensure women’s digital access.

• Action is needed on both policy and the skills base.

Ugandan fashion designer Daphine Kyaligonza sells her colourful dresses, tops and menswear at a number of shops she runs in Kampala. Now she also sells her items via her website to people all over the world. But she wouldn’t have made the move to e-commerce without mentoring and training.

Commerce used to mean the exchange of goods for money, with a customer physically visiting a store, choosing from a variety of selections and paying a specified amount. Now of course that physical presence is increasingly unnecessary with the emergence and growing prevalence of e-commerce, which is providing more opportunities for businesses across the world like Kyaligonza’s to sell at any time of the day or night.

For women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), especially those in the least developed countries (LDCs), the potential to benefit is even greater. Why? Because digital spaces should conceivably provide both men and women with equal opportunities. Further, given cultural barriers in some societies that require women to stay in the house, e-commerce offers women the liberty to work from home while expanding a business.

How can women in LDCs take advantage of this? Are they equipped to reap the benefits that e-commerce offers? And what do they need to succeed?

Read the complete article at


The use of technology and digital trade has great potential in helping women start businesses and increase incomes – and then GDP follows. However, in 2019, only 13.9% of women in LDCs have access to the internet, compared to 87.6% of men and 86% of women in developed countries. How do we make sure that women in LDCs are not left behind amid the current tech revolution?

Read this piece by Deanna Ramsay on what we need to know and need to do –



Written By Deanna Ramsay, EIF

In Uganda, a businesswoman is using Pinterest to keep track of trends in the U.S. and Europe for her basket designs. In Comoros, a perfumer promotes her locally sourced and scented beauty products on Facebook, trying to garner buyers. And in the Solomon Islands, one family’s remote beach bungalows can now be reserved online.

Yes, the internet now allows — some of — us to digitally crisscross the globe. But information about the ways we use digital tools, and about who is benefitting from them and who is not, remains elusive for many parts of the world and for many segments of the population, even with all of our innovations.

Take the examples above of women who hail from what the United Nations identifies as least developed countries, or LDCs, because of the structural impediments to development and low incomes. These women’s entrepreneurial efforts are notable, but knowing of one, two, or three standouts isn’t enough.

Source : EIF News Release
Orginally published on DEVEX Global Views | Focus on: Gender data



200 women led-businesses, 6 countries in Central America, 1 goal: Increase the global impact of Central American businesses through online sales.

Our hashtagEcommerce project in Central America links women-led businesses in the handicraft sector with the international markets, using online channels. We work closely with these female entrepreneurs to provide encouragement, support and guidance – helping them globalize their businesses and share their beautiful, handmade products with the rest of the world.

To find out more, follow the project here:

Source : ITC LinkedIn


‘Generation Equality’. It’s the theme – and dream – of this year’s International Women’s Day. We’ve come a long way since the UN’s landmark Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. And yet, a full quarter of a century on, not one single nation can be said to have achieved true gender equality. And in many of the world’s developing countries, women’s fundamental circumstances have changed very little.


As we approach the Beijing +25 milestone, I believe digital technologies represent the most powerful opportunity humanity has ever had to finally overturn the many barriers to women’s social and economic inclusion.

But to leverage the power of that technology, we need three things. We need to ensure that women have access to digital devices and platforms. We need to ensure that they are empowered with the digital skills to use that technology to improve their lives. And we need to ensure that they have the chance to share equally in employment and leadership opportunities in the world’s fastest-growing sector.

These three pillars of women’s digital empowerment are the foundation of EQUALS, the global partnership dedicated to promoting digital gender equality founded by ITU and its partners ITC, UN Women, the GSMA and the UN University. The EQUALS movement now spans over 100 governments, private sector players, NGOs and universities, all committed to promoting technology as the vital catalyst for a gender-equitable world.

Read the complete article at ITU News



UNCTAD eTrade for Women initiative’s first masterclass in Africa equips entrepreneurs to reap more benefits from the digital economy.

Christelle Assirou, a serial entrepreneur from Côte d’Ivoire, is revolutionizing e-commerce in her country and beyond.

Ms. Assirou runs a business development and digital services firm, ICTINA, founded in 2015. An activist for the empowerment of women in the digital economy, last year she was named by UNESCO as one of the most remarkable women in technology.

Building on her success, Ms. Assirou has joined efforts to help women entrepreneurs in francophone Africa build the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the digital economy.

She is among 19 participants in UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative’s first masterclass in Africa taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from 26 to 28 February.

She has contributed to the development of Côte d’Ivoire’s internet and digital ecosystem as one of the pioneers of the promotion of free and open-source technologies in the country and francophone Africa.

“The masterclass will help us promote gender-inclusive wealth creation by involving more women in the digital economy,” Ms. Assirou said.


Rural banking made easy with the Mama Bank Access Points.

Difficult geographies, a lack of physical infrastructure and limited technological skills are major reasons as to why people in Papua New Guinea are still underserved and underbanked. Only about 37% of the population has access to financial services.

Supply and access coupled with confidence and trust issues and the lack of disposable income to save have also been a hindrance to financial inclusion.

The Women’s Microbank Limited (WMBL), set up five years ago, is faced with these challenges every day. Issues such as how to increase trust in financial institutions and how to design a product that people with even limited disposable income can use?

With support from the UN’s Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) a solution was designed to boost access and usage of financial services for customers of WMBL; primarily women living in rural areas in Papua New Guinea.

Click here to read the complete article from UNCDF News


Partnership will help women reap greater benefits from increased participation in value chains and expand reach of ITC’s SheTrades initiative.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) and The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) today announced they are teaming up to boost the livelihoods of women farmers in West Africa.

A new project, ‘SheTrades West Africa: Improving Women’s Livelihoods Through Inclusive Value Chains’, will initially focus on supporting 10,000 women in the cashew sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, shea butter in Guinea and cassava in Liberia. KOICA’s contribution of US$5.54m allows ITC to establish new operations in West Africa under ITC’s SheTrades Initiative. Globally, the goal of the SheTrades Initiative is to connect 3 million women entrepreneurs to markets by 2021.

Using cash crops as an entry point, the project will deploy diverse and integrated farming and livelihoods strategies to enable poor rural households to better manage risk, ensure food security and increase the quality of produce going to market.

To ensure impact across the region, ITC will be working directly with women farmers, but also in partnership with local and regional small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), cooperatives, farmers’ associations, and trade and investment support institutions. Crucial to the project’s success will be, in collaboration with the governments of the four countries, the creation of a more supportive business and policy environment that caters better to women farmers and women-owned SMEs.

ITC Executive Director Arancha González said: ‘At ITC, we are pleased to join forces with KOICA to ensure greater economic opportunities for women in West Africa. Through this new project, we look forward to empowering more women to trade and connect them with global value chains.’

Jiyoon KIM, KOICA Director-General for Multilateral Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance, said: ‘On behalf of KOICA, I would like to congratulate on the initiation of the SheTrades West Africa project in a close cooperation between KOICA and ITC. I believe that this project can improve women’s livelihoods in four countries by supporting to create more inclusive value chains. Also I am looking forward to strengthening our partnership between KOICA and ITC through this first collaborative project.’

A lack of opportunities for women in Africa’s agricultural sector is limiting productivity, trade performance and economic growth. While women in West African countries make up a majority of the agricultural labour force, they often have less control over and access to productive resources, as well as over their own incomes.

The four countries selected for the project – Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – all rank in the bottom 10% of the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme. Poverty rates hovers above 45% and they face significant food-security risks. Rural population, above all women, are particularly vulnerable.

Through SheTrades West Africa, ITC and KOICA will address the economic and social barriers facing women across the region. Women participating in the project will receive technical training, to help them increase the value of their products and create new market linkages. The project will also seek to establish a more inclusive policy environment and develop a supportive ecosystem for women farmers and SMEs.





Call for papers on Multinational firms and gender equality!

Transnational Corporations is a longstanding policy-oriented refereed research journal on issues related to investment, multinational enterprises and development. It is an official journal of the United Nations, managed by UNCTAD. As such it has a global reach, a strong development policy imprint, and high potential for impact beyond the scholarly community.

Transnational Corporations aims thus to provide a bridge between academia and the policymaking community. It welcomes contributions from the academic community, policymakers, research institutes, international organisations, and others.

The journal provides a unique venue for authors’ research to contribute to, and impact on, regional, national and international policymaking processes.

More information on the Journal here.

A special issue of UNCTAD’s Transnational Corporations Journal  will focus on the role of multinational firms in promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality across the world.


Please submit here:


SheTrades Global 2019 will be held in conjunction with World Export Development Forum (WEDF) at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 18-22 November 2019.

SheTrades Global is ITC’s flagship event on women and the economy, serving as a unique opportunity to pioneer lasting and innovative solutions for women’s participation in trade.

Previous editions of SheTrades Global, held in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Brazil, Rwanda, Mexico, and China, included representatives from over 85 countries and generated over US$ 67 million of new business for women entrepreneurs. Events featured high-level panels with many of the world’s leading companies, government officials, and first ladies as well as 4000 pre-scheduled B2B meetings, mentoring sessions with industry specialists, a tech challenge, and a showcase room.

SheTrades Global 2019

On 19 November 2019, thought-leaders will convene in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for SheTrades Global 2019 to chart the next milestone in transforming the global agenda on women and trade.

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and two years since the launch of Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. Significant efforts have been made to speed up progress on women’s participation in the economy and trade. To move the needle, collaborative and innovative strategies are necessary to ensure systematic and sustainable change.

SheTrades Global will feature talks by high-level officials of the African Union Commission and Government of Ethiopia as well as conversations with Trade Ministers, first ladies, and core private sector partners. Themes that will be discussed include how free trade agreements catalyze more inclusive trade for women, with a spotlight on the African Continental Free Trade Area; innovative tools that promote trade and women’s economic empowerment such as the SheTrades Outlook; and priorities that SheTrades private sector partners are acting upon.

SheTrades Global will be preceded by two days of closed workshops where women’s business associations will discuss how the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can deliver economic opportunities for women. In addition, key SheTrades partners will discuss business models to deliver together on shared goals.

WEDF 2019

All participants will be automatically registered for the International Trade Centre’s World Export Development Forum (WEDF) 2019 from 20-22 November 2019. WEDF 2019 will feature B2B meetings, networking, and high-level panel discussions on investing in value addition, addressing skills mismatch, and promoting sustainable production, with a focus on women and youth.


ALL ATTENDEES should register for SheTrades Global and World Export Development Forum (WEDF) here:

ITC SheTrades will be covering accommodation (from 18-21 November) for a limited number of women entrepreneurs to attend SheTrades Global and Business-to-Business (B2B) meetings.

Who is eligible to apply?

Women-owned businesses operating in the agricultural and agro-processing sectors. The B2B event will welcome commercial farmers, manufacturers, exporters, importers, wholesalers, retailers and investors interested in selling, buying or investing in the following products: meat, fish and dairy products, agricultural crops, cereals, fruits, vegetables and oil seeds.

If your business is eligible and you wish to apply to have accommodation covered, please complete this form and upload a copy of your passport:

Those selected to have accommodation covered will be contacted via email with further details.

For more information, visit:



Some 4.1 billion people are now online, but in developing countries women’s Internet use is falling behind.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​New data released by ITU today reveal that in most countries worldwide women are still trailing men in benefiting from the transformational power of digital technologies.

Measuring digital development: Facts and figures 2019, the first publication in ITU’s new Measuring digital development series, estimates that over half the total global female population (52 per cent) is still not using the Internet, compared to 42 per cent of all men.

Overall, the proportion of all women using the Internet globally is 48 per cent, against 58 per cent of all men. More men than women use the Internet in every region of the world except the Americas, which has near-parity.
ITU data show that while the digital gender gap has been shrinking in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe, it is growing in Africa*, the Arab States and the Asia-Pacific region. It is widest in developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries.
“ITU’s Measuring digital development reports are a powerful tool to better understand connectivity issues, including the growing digital gender divide, at a time when over half of the world’s population is using the Internet,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General. “ITU statistics help policy-makers and regulators make informed policy decisions to connect the unconnected and track progress at the global level.”
Mobile networks – and the mobile phone gender gap
ITU data show that 97​ per cent of the world population now lives within reach of a mobile cellular signal and 93 per cent within reach of a 3G (or higher) network.
In the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, over 95 per cent of the population is covered by a 3G or higher mobile broadband network. In the Arab States the figure stands at 91 per cent; the Commonwealth of Independent States, 88 per cent; and Africa, 79 per cent.
Of the 85 countries that provided data on mobile phone ownership, 61 have a higher proportion of men with mobile phones than women. Of the 24 remaining countries where there is gender parity in mobile phone ownership, or where more women have mobile phones than men, Chile has the highest digital gender gap in favour of women at 12 per cent.
ITU data confirm a correlation between the mobile phone ownership gender gap and the Internet gender gap: countries where the mobile phone ownership gender gap is large also have a high number of women not using the Internet.  Given that mobile phones are the most-often used means of accessing the Internet, addressing the issue of women’s mobile phone ownership could help reduce the Internet gender divide.
3.6 billion people still offline
ITU data confirm that Internet use continues to grow globally, with 4.1 billion people now using the Internet, or 53.6% of the global population.
However, an estimated 3.6 billion people remain offline, with the majority of the unconnected living in the Least Developed Countries where an average of just two out of every ten people are online.
“Connecting the 3.6 billion people still offline to the power of digital technologies must become one of our most urgent development priorities,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Multi-stakeholder collaboration will be key to making universal and meaningful connectivity a reality for all. It will require targeted efforts to lower the cost of broadband and innovative policies to finance network rollout to unconnected populations.”
Internet use in developed countries is nearing saturation levels, with close to 87 per cent of individuals online. Europe is the region with the highest Internet use (82.5 per cent), while Africa is the region with the lowest (28.2 per cent).
By the end of 2019, ITU estimates that 57 per cent of households globally will have Internet access at home. However, the number of households with a computer at home is only expected to rise by about one percentage point – to 49.7 per cent – between 2018 and 2019. Slowing growth in domestic computer ownership is accounted for by the fact that in many countries computers are no longer needed for home Internet access, with people simply connecting over smart phones.
Barriers to Internet use
Affordability and lack of digital skills remain some of the key barriers to the uptake and effective use of the Internet, especially in the world’s Least Developed Countries.
In 40 out of 84 countries for which data are available, less than half the population has basic computer skills, such as copying a file or sending an e-mail with an attachment.
Although more data are needed, initial findings indicate a strong and pressing need for governments to focus on measures to develop digital skills, particularly in the developing world.
“Even where connectivity exists, we need to be more creative in addressing critical issues like affordability of service, cost of handsets, and lack of digital skills and literacy to enable more people – and especially women – to participate and flourish in the digital economy,” says Ms Bogdan-Martin. ​

*Note to editors:  
ITU’s Africa region does not include the North African Arab States. North African Arab States are included in the Arab States region.

The first course will be held in Skopje, North Macedonia, and led by finance minister and co-founder Nina Angelovska.



UNCTAD kicks off its eTrade for Women masterclass series to help women entrepreneurs in developing countries and economies in transition build the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the digital economy.

More than 40 female entrepreneurs from the Balkan Peninsula are expected to attend the first class, set for 26 to 27 October in Skopje, North Macedonia. It will be led by Nina Angelovska, the nation’s finance minister and co-founder of the e-commerce platform

Ms. Angelovska was recently appointed as an advocate of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative to increase women’s participation in the digital economy – an arena where female players are still greatly outnumbered.

On average, women hold less than 35% of jobs related to information and communications technology. In the United States – the world’s largest e-commerce market – just 6% of IT entrepreneurs are women.

“I’m committed to inspire other women, to show them that if they embrace digital technologies the sky is limit,” Ms. Angelovska said.

The masterclass, a cornerstone of UNCTAD’s initiative, is her first opportunity as an advocate to inspire more women to follow in her digital footsteps.

“When I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey, I set out to change the e-commerce industry in my country,” she said, adding that when opened in 2011, less than 1% of North Macedonians shopped online.

“Now I want to use my story to change the global e-commerce landscape.”

She added: “Without more women digital entrepreneurs, e-commerce growth cannot benefit everyone, and it cannot help fight poverty effectively.”

The ins and outs of e-commerce

For the masterclass, Ms. Angelovska will be joined by instructors from companies such as and

Sessions will cover the ins and outs of growing an online business, such as search engine optimization and social media marketing, and how to turn raw data into digital intelligence.

But the participants will also learn how to voice their concerns to government officials so that new policies affecting e-commerce make it easier for women to do business online.

“Overall, the eTrade for Women initiative wants to promote women’s digital economic empowerment,” said Torbjörn Fredriksson, in charge of UNCTAD’s ICT policy section.

“One way to do this,” he said, “is to inspire more women digital entrepreneurs. The other is to give women digital entrepreneurs a bigger voice in policymaking.”

UNCTAD is organizing the masterclass with the finance ministry and the Macedonian E-commerce Association.

The association’s secretary-general, Victor Stojkoski, says they believe that a better future for North Macedonia can be created “by embracing digitalization and becoming a smart society.”

In integral part of building such a society, he says, is helping women entrepreneurs build the digital knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

The masterclass in North Macedonia will be followed by similar sessions in China, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico and Rwanda, delivered by the other six UNCTAD eTrade for Women advocates.

The eTrade for Women initiative is financially supported by the Dutch government.


It’s an open secret that the technology sector struggles to attract women. Could changing the narrative be a way to get more women involved in everything from code to commerce?

Women have played a key but shadow role in science, technology and innovation over the past two centuries. But women’s role, contribution and ideas need not be relegated to the footnotes of tech history.

The tools, talent and tenacity to tell a different story – and the truth – are plentiful.

“It’s a well-known fact that women in technology are underrepresented and poorly funded,” said Candace Nkoth Bisseck, UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women project manager for the new initiative.

According to Pitchbook, in 2018, start-ups in the US with only female founders took a meagre 2.2% of the $130 billion venture capital deployed.

Greater momentum behind a new narrative is needed to change the funding landscape while inspiring would-be women digital entrepreneurs to pursue their business ideas.

Earlier this year at the fifth annual UNCTAD eCommerce Week in April in Geneva, Switzerland, leading women in e-commerce came together to discuss how to change the women in e-commerce narrative. They also explored how such a narrative change could translate into more profits and opportunities for women e-business owners and entrepreneurs.

Here are the six lessons they shared about women in e-commerce and how a narrative change can help.
    1. Making women visible is not just women’s problem – it’s everyone’s problem.

The very first necessary step to changing the e-commerce gender status quo is to raise visibility. The next is to support women already in the industry doing the dual work of launching and running businesses, and simultaneously trying to manage and change perceptions. The goal is for everyone to get involved in making successful e-commerce businesswomen stand out and be proud.

  1. Don’t let men take over when something becomes economically significant.Successful women are not a threat. But super successful women often are perceived as threats – and this is when men tend to want to take over, or at least when investors and decision-makers are likely to hear men over women. Our women in e-commerce advise that when real investment is on the table this is the time to hold the course and keep steering your ship.
  2. We simply need more women on the internet.While the internet has opened new opportunities for women to participate in global trade and businesswomen can access a bigger global consumer base than ever before, there’s a big gap between male and female internet usage. These trends play out in developed and developing countries alike. Overall, 12% fewer women use the internet than men. In sub-Saharan Africa it’s as high as 25%, and in LDCs even 33%. Given the opportunity, women entrepreneurs are more likely to engage in digital entrepreneurship, but the challenge is facilitating this access in the first place. More needs to be done and more attention needs to be focused on digital inclusion. Our women in e-commerce called for greater efforts to achieve gender equality online to inspire more women-led e-commerce.
  3. Women need investors and businesses to play ball on an even field.The private sector and investors need to take up the cause of growing the number of women digital entrepreneurs, our women in e-commerce say. This is because it makes business sense. Cameroonian-born tech entrepreneur, Rebecca Enonchong, asked: “What can you do? The answer is: buy from us. One of the areas we struggle with is procurement. Something must be done in the procurement process to allow women to access it. We can grow without funding, but we can’t scale without funding.”
  4. Women need to want a bigger role in e-commerce, and badly.The message that we need more women who are ambitious and want to lead in the e-commerce field was loud and clear. “We need to push women to dream big. Together we must equip women with tools, skills and networks they need, and support them to rise to senior positions. Give women the opportunity and they will rise to it and ensure their extended family benefits,” said Nina Angelovska, now North Macedonia’s finance minister and previously the CEO and co-founder of the e-commerce company
  5. Governments need to get with the digital programme.We have the double challenge of gender and making the digital economy acceptable to governments, especially in developing countries. Houda Chakiri, CEO and founder of Enhanced Technologies, a Moroccan IT company specializing in developing eGovernment solutions, cited an example of when a government official told her that roads are prioritized over skills development for women in the digital economy. This needs to change. And together with more women in e-commerce advocating for change at the policy-making table, governments can deliver policy that provides access and opportunity.

The main takeaway was that with mentoring, role models, education and, ultimately, funding – sprinkled with legitimate trust and respect – women can be an e-commerce force to be reckoned with.

“Women in e-commerce often face a triple threat of lack of representation at the decision-making tables, unequal access to internet and funding, and limiting cultural gender biases,” Ms. Nkoth Bisseck said.

“ICT can help women access new opportunities, customers and become more efficient than before,” she added.

“Raising the profile of successful women digital entrepreneurs will contribute to inspiring and empowering the next generation of female entrepreneurs. It will also help to shift gender norms and barriers, increase women’s credibility in the industry, and enable them to use their voice more in policymaking processes.”

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Only 20% of exporting companies in the European Union are owned, led or managed by women.

Women are under-represented among EU companies in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors and women-led companies are primarily found in sectors with lower export growth potential. These are some of the findings of From Europe to the World: Understanding Challenges for European Businesswomen, a study released today by the European Commission and the International Trade Centre.

The study finds that only one in five exporting companies in the EU is owned, led or managed by a woman. In almost half of the companies surveyed, women account for 30% or less of the total workforce and only one in five companies reaches gender parity in employment. It also suggests that job segregation remains a reality: fewer than one in three companies have reached 30% or more of women in senior executive positions.

Women-led companies tend to be smaller and concentrated in industries with lower export growth potential such as in the clothing and textiles sector. From Europe to the World suggests that size and industry concentration drive patterns of inequality, for example in dealing with non-tariff measures or entering government procurement markets outside the European Union. Irrespective of company size or industry, women-led firms are at a disadvantage when seeking access to skills, finance from commercial banks, and business networks.

The study also identifies some good news: when women lead, they tend to open opportunities for other women. European companies led by women are more likely to employ other women in senior positions as well as employ more women across the business.

From Europe to the World: Understanding Challenges for European Businesswomen also provides recommendations to European policymakers and businesses on ensuring greater participation of women in international trade.

The study suggests that while interventions should target small and medium-sized enterprises more broadly, particular attention should also be made to ensure that women are enabled to benefit from such opportunities, including access to skills, funding from commercial banks, and business networks. Higher women’s industry representation and participation in consultation processes would help ensure that issues faced by women-led companies are shared with policymakers. The study notes that this also calls for women entrepreneurs to organize themselves better at the EU-level to ensure their voice is heard.

Promoting the entry of women in employment, business ownership and management is likely to have the biggest impact on reducing gender disparities in extra-EU trade. The study suggests that most interventions required are domestic policies and go beyond trade policy to include social, labour and education policies.

The study also recommends that trade policymakers be part of the solution. For example, by supporting the participation of women in trade through platforms provided by free trade agreements (FTAs) or through cooperation at the multilateral level. This cooperation could involve the sharing of best practices, promoting access to information and networking opportunities, and improving the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data (issues already covered in recent FTAs). It also suggests that trade promotion agencies play a greater role in providing targeted support to help more women-led companies enter and grow in extra-EU trade.

Download From Europe to the World: Understanding Challenges for European Businesswomen.

Notes for the Editor

From Europe to the World: Understanding Challenges for European Businesswomen is based on the data collected by the first of a kind survey across 12 EU countries. It explores both the gender dimension of women as firm owners, managers and employees and firm-level participation in international trade in goods.

The survey, which was conducted in 2019, covers more than 1,000 firms across 12 EU countries in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors exporting outside the EU.




The tech and e-commerce industry remains a male-dominated playing field globally, but a surge in women demanding a seat at the table – and delivering the goods online – means that this could change.

The tech and e-commerce industry remains a male-dominated playing field globally, but a surge in women demanding a seat at the table – and delivering the goods online – means that this could change.

A handful of women disruptors from developing countries are challenging the status quo to narrow the gender gap at home and further afield. UNCTAD is working with some of these inspiring women to reshape how trade happens online.

Seven women from across the developing world were announced as UNCTAD’s first “eTrade for Women Advocates” on 24 September on the margins of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

These women are crushing the gender gap by building flourishing digital businesses and creating wealth and employment in their countries through vision, passion and dedication.

“It’s a well-known fact that women in technology are underrepresented and poorly funded,” said Candace Nkoth Bisseck, UNCTAD’s project manager for the new initiative.

According to Pitchbook, in 2018, startups in the US with only female founders took a meagre 2.2% of the $130 billion venture capital deployed.

“Imagine what the figure is for those in developing countries?” Ms. Nkoth Bisseck posed, adding that many women in these nations have the ideas and solutions to not only solve development challenges, but also make viable businesses.

“We must support them – but more than that, we need to ensure they are heard and influence policymaking. These women will in turn be a source of inspiration for other women in e-commerce,” she said.

eTrade For Women

UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative is premised on the need to harness the positive impact of digital technology, combined with the transformative power of female entrepreneurship, to accelerate wealth creation and poverty reduction in developing countries.

Drawing on their groundbreaking work in e-commerce, the advocates, selected from around the globe, are overcoming barriers and helping to create the world we want by 2030 by leveraging technology to build wealth in their communities to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

These seven “super” women have also been selected to inspire other digital women entrepreneurs and help ensure women have a seat and a voice at the policymaking table for a more inclusive local, regional and global digital economy.

The eTrade for Women project by the UNCTAD-led eTrade for all partners initiative is supported by the Netherlands.

The initiative complements UNCTAD’s work in support of digital entrepreneurs, such as the eFounders Fellowship Initiative, where young entrepreneurs are empowered to be game-changers and champions for the new economy.

Meet the seven trailblazing women digital entrepreneurs

Nina Angelovska, minister of finance of North Macedonia and co-founder of

Nina Angelovska co-founded the first deal platform and leading e-commerce company in North Macedonia,, which transformed the e-commerce market in the country. She was recently appointed minister of finance in North Macedonia in August.

Ms. Angelovska has worked as a business development and e-commerce consultant, and her work earned her a place in the “Forbes 30 Under 30” in Europe list in the retail and e-commerce category in 2018.

She believes that through digital innovation, fintech and a strong commitment to developing human potential, she can better contribute to sustainable economic development. She is a role model, particularly for women and digital entrepreneurs, and wants to inspire young people to step out of their comfort zone.

 Nazanin Daneshvar from Iran, founder and CEO of Takhfifan

With over 10 years of experience in the e-commerce field, this proficient software developer has created the most popular group buying website in Iran.

Nazanin Daneshvar is an avid supporter of the Iranian start-up movement, through which she mentors women who are making a mark in e-commerce. She is a frequent speaker at start-up and technology events, where she inspires change by encouraging women to break new ground in digital entrepreneurship.

Claudia de Heredia from Mexico, co-founder and COO of Kichink

Claudia de Heredia manages one of the largest e-commerce platforms in Mexico. Its purpose is to democratize online retail by enabling small- and medium-sized businesses to enter the digital retail space. It powers over 45,000 stores in Mexico.

She was head of growth for the platform from 2012 to 2017, leading it from zero to 25,000 merchants. She has headed the firm’s operations, optimizing logistics and shipping costs, integrating AI and developing payment processing and fraud prevention systems.

She is part of the advisory board of Women´s Forum Mexico and speaks on topics related to entrepreneurship and e-commerce in various international forums. She previously worked at P&G Marketing Mexico, where she managed several brands, and is currently a partner at Revolt VC.

Helianti Hilman from Indonesia, founder and Chairperson of Javara

Helianti Hilman is at the forefront of promoting and sustaining Indonesia’s food biodiversity heritage by introducing and bringing indigenous food products from across Indonesia to the broader market.

Inspired by Indonesia’s food biodiversity, indigenous wisdom and spiritualism, in 2008, Ms. Hilman left her work as a consultant and founded PT Kampung Kearifan Indonesia, also known as Javara, which uses digital technology to manage its supply chain. Javara also markets its products on social media to boost the sales of its retail store in Indonesia and to reach buyers globally.

It works with tens of thousands of farmers and food artisans across Indonesia, producing over 600 artisanal products, of which 250 are certified organic for US, Europe and Japan markets. It serves over 300 retailers, hotels and restaurants within Indonesia and exports products to 23 countries in five continents.

Clarisse Iribagiza from Rwanda, co-founder and CEO of DMM.HeHe

Serving over two million users across Africa, Clarisse Iribagiza’s company develops innovative technologies that enable businesses to optimize their operations and reach more customers anywhere and on the go.

Founded in 2010, the firm creates an online presence for local retailers by powering their e-commerce platforms, giving them broad access to both local and global consumers through an online store, an inventory management system, shipping and pickup options, and digital payment services. She is also a member of the Presidential Youth Advisory Group at the African Development Bank.

Xiaofei Yao from China, founder and CEO of Rogrand

Xiaofei Yao is big in China. That’s big. Founder of the largest pharmaceutical e-commerce platform and pharmacy benefit management company in China, Ms. Yao is devoted to transforming the pharmaceutical industry to bring about safe, efficient, affordable and accessible care to everyone.

In 2018, she was honoured by the China Finance Summit as the ‘New Economy Person of the Year’ in recognition of her achievements. She has introduced a new whole-of-chain business model into the pharmaceutical industry to form a new healthcare ecosystem, streamlining healthcare and insurance benefits for the public.

She is also the vice chair of the China Association of Pharmaceutical Commerce, executive vice chair of the China Food and Drug Administration Council, chairwoman of the Healthcare Industry Innovation Alliance and a member of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers.

Patricia Zoundi Yao from Côte d’Ivoire, founder and CEO of Quickcash

Patricia Zoundi Yao founded her company, QuickCash, in 2010 to make it easier for rural people and workers in the informal sector to make money transfers, after cutting her teeth in business at her mother’s side, selling items in villages in her country.

Since then, she has created two other firms – Digital, which plans to launch the mobile payment service Kiffpay in November, and CanaanLand, which provides services to small-scale farmers.

She has received various awards for her business achievements and social impact. They include the Chevalier de l’Ordre National et du Mérite, the Prix Spécial du Premier Ministre Côte d’Ivoire, and the Prix National d’Excellence de la Présidence de la République.


If we are committed to transforming the lives of women across the globe, we have to start with the least developed countries

Let’s get real.

We have a long way to go to fix the world’s gender gap. In the least developed countries, which range from Bhutan to Mozambique to Zambia, reducing this gap will be even more difficult.

This is because approximately 75 percent of the population of these countries lives in dire poverty, and they face a tough mix of structural, historical and geographic impediments to development. For the women there, they also have less access to education and fewer opportunities for good work.

People in poor countries, and especially women, are also vulnerable to global economic fluctuations, environmental shocks and conflicts.

If we are committed to transforming the lives of women across the globe, we have to start with the least developed countries.

Why? First, because women there are some of the most marginalized people in the world, and they need support. Improving their circumstances means confronting norms that don’t change all at once. Second, the least developed countries are home to approximately one billion people, and this is estimated to increase by 33 percent by 2030. And finally, because the gender gap costs money.

Without action, the situation could worsen.

But more women in the workforce means increased benefits. Women invest more of their income in their families, and businesses see improved productivity and better growth. Yet women in poor countries are inundated with restrictions on their ability to trade, from social practices that impede work to extra difficulties starting businesses to lack of access to finance. Thirty-two of the least developed countries have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs, and in Uganda, although women own nearly 40 percent of registered businesses, they receive only nine percent of all credit disbursed.

More women in trade translates into the increased growth that poor countries need, with McKinsey estimating a potential additional $12 trillion in global GDP by 2025 by reducing the gender gap. With those economies advancing very, the decision to place women at the centre of trade action is an easy one. And there is a lot of room to grow.

Women in the least developed countries are already working, and working hard. In Zambia, women are essential in the agriculture sector, and make up 80 percent of food producers. In Uganda, they are powering the lucrative trade across borders, and they are the bulk of the country’s business people in small enterprises and farming.

Women in the least developed countries are also managing the majority of household and childcare duties, and the cumulative work they are shouldering remains largely unrecognized or in sectors deemed ‘informal’. In these informal sectors, 50 percent of female employees are unpaid, compared with 33 percent of men.

So what is being done to correct this?

The East African Community (EAC) has been working for a decade to support cross border traders, especially women by developing infrastructure that makes work safer for women, hosting trainings, creating creches, and trying to formalize the trade. The Democratic Republic of Congo reviewed its laws to allow married women to register businesses, open bank accounts and get jobs. Uganda, through a government initiative popularly known as the Women Fund, is guiding budding women entrepreneurs to financial services and marketing education, with UGX 90 billion ($24.4 million) disbursed between 2015 and 2019.

But much, much more needs to be done.

Truly empowering women in the least developed countries means ensuring they both benefit from trade and that they have the agency to make decisions – in the home and in the marketplace. This means creating gender-sensitive procedures so a woman can start a business as readily as a man. This means alleviating hindrances to working outside the home. This means educating women in business practices and regulations. This means zooming out to gather global partners and resources together for maximum impact, for example through initiatives like Empower Women, Power Trade and SheTrades that adapt to the contrasts in women’s lived experiences across the globe.

It is crucial that we recognize that women are essential in the undertaking to spur growth and alleviate poverty. They are the ones who have the power to transform a country’s development trajectory.

All they need is what has already been granted to men.

There are so many obstacles to overcome. But considering how many, and how massive, the obstacles women have already triumphed over, we don’t have a hopeless task but instead a hopeful one.




How can we get more girls and young women involved in the Internet?

Since 2017, the Internet Society’s Women SIG has developed global actions to promote gender equality and to develop digital skills and leadership among girls and young women.

With the support of several Chapters of the Internet Society, we’ve organized global face-to-face and virtual events on security and privacy issues focused on girls and women. But this work can’t be done alone, which is why we’ve promoted collaboration within organizations, government, civil society, companies, academia, and the technical community to organize events that have a positive impact on the Internet community. (We also collaborate with EQUALS Global Partnership.)

This year, to commemorate the International Day of Girls in ICT, promoted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which aims to reduce the digital gender gap and to encourage and motivate girls to participate in tech careers, we organized a series of workshops focused on digital skills for girls. The main node was organized in conjunction with the Internet Society Chapter in Guatemala and the Spain Cultural Center in Guatemala.

We also had a global celebration in El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Hong Kong, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Armenia, Nigeria, and Ghana. We brought together 11 countries, with 13 activities to inspire girls and young women to study, participate in the Internet, and meet women who work in these areas – to see them as inspiration and examples to follow.

But our work hasn’t stopped there.

IGFem: Initiatives By and For Women

The IGFem emerged by and for women. It’s a space to learn, share, and reflect on how women strategize to be safe on the Internet. It’s been organized in Mexico in Guadalajara (2016 and 2017), Mexico City (2018), Aguascalientes (2019) and, for the first time, in Central America in Guatemala (April, 2019). We’re now extending this initiative to the Global South.

FemHackParty: Hacking the Latin American Community

We’ve also organized the 2nd FemHackPartyLAC. In August we’ll be in La Paz, Bolivia, promoting the initiatives of women and the Internet in the region. This year we want to highlight the work, the struggle – and how it relates at local level.

We’ve identified the challenges we must overcome, even in 2019, so that more girls, young adults, and women can become more involved in Internet use, creation, and leadership – and so that they can reach their full professional and personal potential.

For example, the challenges women face in accessing and browsing the Internet safely vary according to their local context. However, we have realized that women need tools and information to help them protect themselves online. It is not a legal issue, it is how they can access digital tools to ensure their Internet security.

In addition, there is a need not only to create, but to maintain these spaces in the medium and long term. One of the main challenges is to attract more stakeholders from the Internet ecosystem to support the continuity of such events in their countries.

The Internet came to be thanks to a spirit of openness and collaboration. Now we need more people in the Internet community to help women take a greater role in shaping its future. We invite you to join women to build spaces where women feel safe – able to speak and express their ideas, opinions, and fears without restrictions – so that we can make the Internet a open for all. We must consider the reality of women and encourage bottom-up approaches instead of top-down initiatives. We can’t do this work alone!

Let’s go from “connecting via cables” to having a feminist gaze – and helping women take their rightful place in the digital space.

Ready to make a difference? Join a Special Interest Group!

Read the original article here

By Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau

Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest tickets in the ICT space right now – and the rapid proliferation of machine-learning platforms is bringing with it a raft of new types of jobs aimed at feeding data-devouring AI systems.

One such role is data labelling, a lesser-known but vital part of the AI supply chain that creates algorithms to help AI systems interpret a whole range of different inputs – from video footage, to web search results, to photos and much more.

Data labelling is hugely time-intensive. Annotating just one hour of video content – for example, driving footage designed to help self-guided vehicles ‘understand’ road etiquette and avoid accidents – takes eight hours or more. Yet to learn effectively and reliably, new AI platforms need to consume literally millions of correctly labelled inputs.

Industry analyst Cognilytica puts the market for third-party data labelling services at US$150m in 2018, growing to more than US$1 billion by 2023. The result is new opportunities for developing countries, with data labelling hubs now springing up in India, Kenya, the Philippines, and beyond.

AI and the gender digital divide

Can the AI market’s voracious appetite for quality labelled data benefit women and promote gender digital equality? I think it can.

A few days ago, I was interested to read of Indian-based tech company iMerit’s success in capturing a sizeable portion of the global data labelling market, because these kinds of new tech jobs represent real hope for the populations of developing countries.

And I was delighted, too, because iMerit was one of the very first recipients of ITU’s GEM-Tech (now EQUALS in Tech) Awards for gender digital equality, winning the 2014 prize for ICT Applications, Content, Production Capacities and Skills for Women’s Economic Empowerment and Poverty Reduction.

At the time, iMerit had 500 young employees, and was specializing in providing web-based solutions to global clients. Around 70 per cent of the iMerit team were women from minority and socio-economically marginalized communities in rural areas. The company’s model was built on training these women to deliver high quality services to meet the exacting needs of an international client base.

A working model for female participation

Chatting at the awards ceremony back in 2014, CEO Rada Basu told me that iMerit’s ‘human capital model’ is based on a three-step process: rural women embark on an intensive 12-week market-aligned course, preparing them for employment in the digital services sector; students with strong digital skills are recruited to work in iMerit client services teams; and employees receive ongoing professional training to help them assume leadership positions.

Today, Basu’s company has grown to 2,200 staff, but has maintained its strong commitment to gender digital equality, with a workforce that’s 50 per cent female, and still mostly drawn from low-income families.

The company’s all-female training facility near Kolkata now employs 460 low-income rural women, and has become a specialist centre for computer vision labelling, providing jobs for mostly Muslim women who otherwise would not have had their families’ support to enter the workforce.

iMerit’s outstanding success story encapsulates everything that the EQUALS Global Partnership is committed to.

Job requirements in the data-labelling sector are becoming increasingly skilled, so at leading global suppliers like iMerit, workers’ time is not spent endlessly labelling basic objects.

Instead, iMerit staff are employed on a wide range of advanced analytics. They might label in-car footage of drivers, annotating their facial expressions and eye behaviour, which can be an indicator of driver fatigue. They might work on voice clips for personal digital assistants, to help train systems to better understand user commands. Or they might analyze and tag satellite imagery of properties to train insurance risk assessment algorithms.

As it has become more advanced, data labelling has also become better paid. To ensure the highest quality, companies like iMerit do not rely on ‘gig workers’, but on their own trained, experienced and trusted teams – many of whom are women. Through such new kinds ICT jobs, young rural female workers have the chance to bring about real change in the economic empowerment of their communities.

Commitment to long-term success

Rada Basu’s words as she collected her GEM-Tech Award in Busan, Korea almost five years ago still resonate powerfully for all of us committed to leveraging ICT for gender equality.

“Our dream is for iMerit and others like us to become mini Facebooks or Alibabas, with our women as equal shareholders so that they can participate in the global Internet economy,” she said.

iMerit’s outstanding success story encapsulates everything that the EQUALS Global Partnership is committed to. We are immensely proud to have been a part of iMerit’s story, and we look forward immensely to recognizing and rewarding a new crop of digital gender champions at the 2019 EQUALS in Tech Awards, which will be held on 27 November in Berlin as part of the Internet Governance Forum.




Women in IT, Women in STEM, Women in E-commerce…”If you can see it, you can be it”–role-models, mentors, success stories are being promoted aiming to showcase the success of other women who have walked the walk aiming to encourage and motivate others. Dozens of initiatives, communities, platforms and networks for women were launched in the past few years aiming to foster the inclusion and create greater opportunities and access for women across the globe. And more are yet to be launched as governments are putting their focus on female entrepreneurship and are developing tailored national strategies as the numbers for women in management, leadership and business are still devastating. Besides the efforts on the national level, there are as well global initiatives aiming to unite women across the world and make a change. One of these is the eTrade from Women initiative that has been launched the past month at the United National Palace in Geneva during the UNCTAD E-commerce week. The initiative is part of the eTrade for All platform–an information hub that helps developing countries navigate the wealth of technical and financial services they can use to drive development through e-commerce.

The eTrade for Women initiative aims to support women involved in e-commerce in developing countries by collecting, nurturing and showcasing the experiences of successful women leaders, providing them with opportunities to network, as well as a forum to make their voices heard in policy processes both domestically and internationally.

When I first met Candace Nkoth Bisseck, she was the country manager of Jumia Market (Cameroon’s largest online marketplace). She is a relentless African young woman passionate to change the landscape for women in e-commerce. Just recently she was invited to take the role of the Program Manager of the very new initiative–the eTrade for Women. I talked to her to learn more about the new initiative and her story.

Nina Angelovska: How will the eTrade for Women initiative be different from the other women networks out there?

Candace Nkoth Bisseck: We will be different in several capacities. First, we have a very targeted approach by specifically aiming at collaborating with a selective group of successful women entrepreneurs in the digital economy. We want to enable them to play an active role as advocates promoting the advancement of female entrepreneurs in e-commerce at the regional and global scale, and to inspire the next generation of women in that field. Second, we want our approach to be as impactful and sustainable as possible. There is a proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We will, therefore, leverage our network of partners in the eTrade for all family and are currently exploring additional partnerships to make the initiative highly collaborative and effective.

Candace NKOTH BISSECK, Program Manager of eTrade for Women, UNCTAD

Angelovska: One of the goals of the network is to make the voices of women heard in policy processes both domestically and internationally. How do you plan to make this happen?

N.Bisseck: We want to enable these advocates to contribute to a more gender-inclusive and e-commerce friendly policy and regulatory landscape in their region and at the highest levels by allowing them to engage directly with local, regional and global policymakers. They will share their insights on the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in the digital environment in their regions and highlight their active engagement as role models throughout the duration of their tenure as eTrade for Women advocates to generate stronger support at all levels.

Freelance art director and photographer, Khloud Hassan (right) looks at pictures with Yomna Mandouh in Studio 360 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates on May 12, 2017. Khloud is a member of online business network, named Nabbesh that helps freelancers like Khloud find work

Freelance art director and photographer, Khloud Hassan (right) looks at pictures with Yomna Mandouh in Studio 360 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates on May 12, 2017. Khloud is a member of online business network, named Nabbesh that helps freelancers like Khloud find work


Angelovska: You have extensive experience in managing an e-commerce company as well as mentoring women in Africa. You recently moved to Geneva and took on a new challenge as a Program Manager of the eTrade for Women initiative. What would you say are the differences between women in LDCs and developed countries?

N.Bisseck:  After living and working in 8 cities across 3 continents, I believe that women inherently have more in common than they have differences. They are for the most part hard working, resilient, and have a natural ability to nurture others, whether it is literally, financially, or simply encouragement. However, the overarching difference I observed in many developing economies might be the extent to which women’s opportunities are limited or not by cultural biases and patriarchal traditions. Biases and traditions exist everywhere, but in developed countries, there are more systems and policies that allow women better or equal access to education, information and economic opportunities, which directly impact their mindset and level of ambition. I believe more women in developing economies will have better choices and opportunities once there are enough enabling systems and policies in place.

Angelovska: Now, despite promoting women success stories and role-models you are a role model yourself. What were the biggest challenges you have faced? Did you have a mentor and if yes how helpful was he/she for your personal growth and development?

N.Bisseck: My biggest challenges have mostly been related to my limited perspective of the tope of opportunities I could access as an African woman with no personal or family fortune. I have consequently made personal limiting choices, from a place of weakness or lack of faith in my potential. What really made a difference for me was not a specific mentor but the inspiration and guidance from women I could identify with. These women could be peers sharing tips to apply to a competitive school to boost my career, acquaintances that were more advanced in their professional journey and indirectly inspiring me to aim higher, or even the former first lady Michelle Obama, whose unique life story opened my younger mind to the infinity of possibilities I had as a woman from a challenged background. Until this day, women in my network play a key role in expanding the spectrum of what I think is possible and give me courage. That is why I believe in the power of representation, and that also why I truly believe we can make a significant difference with eTrade for Women initiative.

Angelovska: What is your message to all the e-commerce ladies out there?

N.Bisseck: I would summarize it as such: aim higher and take care of yourself. If you are not sure about how to achieve a dream try to learn from those who have already achieved a similar goal, make sure to build systems that will make your business ready for scale, take good care of yourself to maintain the energy necessary to grow your business, and try as much as you can to make an impact in your community or your industry beyond your bottom line. It will fulfill you, make you stand out and motivate you to achieve more!

Read the original article here


SheTrades Invest to offer impact capital to women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises across 14 countries

by ITC News

(Geneva) – The International Trade Centre (ITC) and GroFin, a development finance company operating across Africa and the Middle East, today announced the launch of SheTrades Invest, an initiative to increase investment in women-owned businesses in 14 countries across these regions. 

SheTrades Invest will help strengthen the financial and managerial capacity of women entrepreneurs, improve their investment readiness, and connect them to impact investors and financiers. As part of this strategic alliance with the ITC, GroFin will deploy risk-impact capital into vetted and eligible small and growing businesses to create economic growth and jobs for women. Businesses in Egypt, Ghana, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Oman are eligible to take part. 

‘Women entrepreneurs have tremendous potential to be drivers of growth. Exactly one year on from the adoption of the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade by over 120 World Trade Organisation members and observers, we are pleased to partner with GroFin to launch SheTrades Invest. This demonstrates the ITC’s continued support to realising the commitments of this Declaration. We encourage investors to join the initiative to boost investment into women-owned businesses globally,’ said ITC Executive Director, Arancha González. 

Across the world, female entrepreneurs face substantial unmet funding needs. Women in developing countries in particular encounter numerous challenges in starting, growing and managing businesses. These include lack of access to finance, weak financial and management capacity, and lack of access to markets. 

‘Women are grossly underserved by the traditional financial sector and this has to be addressed urgently if we are to meaningfully empower women to contribute to economic development and job creation,’ said GroFin CEO, Guido Boysen. 

‘GroFin sees this as an opportunity to generate both commercial and development returns for the benefit of all stakeholders. We are pleased to partner with the ITC on SheTrades Invests and believe it will allow us to increase our investments in women-owned or women-led businesses across our key high impact sectors of education, healthcare, agro-processing, manufacturing and key services.’ 

SheTrades Invest will leverage the large network of women entrepreneurs who are members of the SheTrades initiative, ITC’s flagship programme that aims to connect three million women-owned businesses to international markets by 2021. 

SheTrades Invest also capitalizes on GroFin’s 14-year track record, making over 700 investments in small and growing businesses in the Middle East and in sub-Saharan Africa, and supported a total of nearly 90,000 jobs across these regions.

Women-owned businesses and investors interested in joining SheTrades Invest are invited to visit the SheTrades Invest webpage at: for more information on the conditions of participation and the registration process. 

Read the original article here


Studies show benefits of a more inclusive economic model

by ANOUSH DERBOGHOSSIAN, Gender Focal Point, World Trade Organization

Let us go back 12 years, to when the Aid for Trade Task Force was created. Gender was written into the initiative’s guiding principles: ‘Aid for trade should be rendered taking full account of the gender perspective. Donors and partner countries jointly commit to the harmonization of efforts on issues such as gender.’

Fast forward to today. It turns out that momentum on gender has been building. Some 87% of Aid for Trade donors surveyed for the Aid for Trade Global Review in 2017 have integrated women’s economic empowerment into their Aid for Trade programmes. Similarly, most of developing countries believe the programme can meaningfully contribute to women’s economic empowerment. All surveyed countries and Aid for Trade donors consider that it contributes to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

While momentum is growing, a lot remains to be done. We also need to do it effectively.


Supporting the participation of women in international trade is one of its key components of the inclusive trade solutions many governments want to employ. Through Aid for Trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been focusing on women with the aim of building their trade capacity and using trade as a tool for their development.

Past Global Reviews have highlighted a broad range of areas in which Aid for Trade support is effective.

Some of the results show $1 of Aid for Trade is worth $20 of exports. That dollar has a positive, although implicit, impact on women’s economic empowerment because Aid for Trade is a tool for women’s development. As the initiative matures its impact is becoming increasing clear.

Since 2011 Aid for Trade has increasingly focused on women’s empowerment and through the global survey – one of the WTO’s main monitoring processes – we have a better perspective on policy trends related to development and women’s empowerment.

Gender was specifically addressed at the 2011 Aid for Trade Global Review, which highlighted a virtuous circle of efforts to improve women’s economic empowerment through trade capacity building.

Launched at the 2015 Global Review, ‘The Role of Trade in Ending Poverty’, joint WTO-World Bank Group publication, analysed how trade integration can positively impact women’s economic empowerment. One strong conclusion was that high trade costs fell heavily on least developed countries (LDCs), particularly on their small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and also on women traders. This higher cost prices them out of international trade.

The 2015 Global Review also reported on impacts in female employment and examined how to include women into value chains and barriers facing women traders, especially in Africa.

Gender was a cross-cutting issue within the 2016-2017 Aid for Trade work programme. The latest edition of the At a Glance report launched at the Global Review in July 2017 has a plethora of information and analysis on this critical issue. The report clearly highlights the divides that prevent women from fully reaping the benefits of international trade.

These divides still exist and persist: in accessing the information and skills needed to export; in accessing and using of technology for global and regional value chain integration; in owning and managing firms. These are divides that can and are being addressed by Aid for Trade programmes. Developing countries are making progress in integrating gender perspectives into trade and development programming.


The new Work Programme 2018-19 will go deeper into the issue and, among other topics, will focus on young women, women-owned firms and the digital gender divide.

Aid for Trade is geared up for women’s empowerment. To be sure that we are making a difference, we need data to track the impact of trade on women. There is insufficient information in that regard and we need to understand the links between trade and gender. For this purpose, the WTO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are currently working to assess how Aid for Trade has benefited women in the past 10 years.

Similarly, the WTO is now partnering with the World Bank to undertake a deep and comprehensive publication on this issue, generating new data in this field. This is a very complex issue because it implies combining economic analysis with an understanding of the different national and regional contexts. The Aid for Trade monitoring exercise can potentially help here by tracking national policy trends and understanding the role of the private sector.

We are moving forward, making Aid for Trade work for women and ensuring it becomes a springboard for their economic empowerment. The question today is not if Aid for Trade provides economic opportunities for women, it is for how many it provides them. Determining how we can do more to make a difference is the challenge we need to take up.


Read more…


From where I stand: Using blockchain technology to empower women

Olivier Mukuta, a social innovator who grew up in a refugee camp is working to create blockchain technology solutions to help empower women in humanitarian crisis situations.

I always say I’ve lived three lives. I was born in Congo. And then grew up in Malawi in a refugee camp, and then my family moved to Norway when I was 18.

In Norway, both my father and I were working and getting good paychecks, and sending money back to help our friends in the refugee camp. But we were finding that the money was not being used as intended. I’d tell my friends the money was for school, but then find out it was being used for different things. It was frustrating.

In Malawi, my mother was a hair-dresser. A lot of women came to her to do these styles, of course some of them would pay her. But the problem is, whenever there is cash in the picture, this sort of created a situation between women and men in the refugee camp. It created friction. Men had been head of their families in their home country, but the roles were changing.

And it wasn’t just happening in my family. In some families, they fought because the men wanted to use the money for something that might not be a priority.

That sort of gave me a vision. What if you have a solution where the help and resources can be managed by only women?

We came up with VipiCash as a solution. I can send money to my aunt or family and friends and lock it in to a specific service, like school fees or groceries. The money can only to be managed by my aunt because she knows best what is good for the children.

We are also looking into how financial transactions can be done without a fee. Because why should it cost people to help other people? Blockchain allows us to cut all these costs and at the same time makes sure that the transaction is transparent and the donors always know what happened to the donation that they made.

One of our dreams is to help women run their own businesses through VipiCash. We want to create a market for women vendors exclusively. We are looking at this as a way of creating a movement for women.”

SDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructureSDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

Olivier Mukuta and his team were among the winners at the first “blockchain hackathon” co-organized by UN Women and Innovation Norway in July 2017. Muktua’s team developed ‘VipiCash’, an app that uses blockchain technology to enable secure money transfer among women, so that they can have access and control over their own money, independent of the male members of their family. In January 2018, Mukuta attended the UN Women and UN Office of Information and Communications Technology (UN OICT) four-day simulation lab to explore cutting-edge solutions based on blockchain technologies that address challenges faced by women and girls in humanitarian settings. Mukuta’s work relates to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which includes a target on women’s equal rights to economic resources. It also relates to SDG 8, which aims to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men; and SDG 9 on fostering innovation and access to technology.


International Day of Women and Girls in Science: ITU joined its UN sister organizations and over 55 partners in the EQUALS global network on Sunday to celebrate International Day of Women & Girls in Science. Find out how EQUALS in Tech Award Winner, Costa Rica’s Sulá Batsú Cooperativa, is supporting women in leadership in ICT fields. And read UN Women’s suggestions on how to reshape the future for women in STEM.

ITU News asked women across Southeast Asia what it is like to be a woman in tech and how we can level the playing field.

Technology in its various forms, including Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), continues to redefine and revolutionize the way we all live and work. Harnessing this technology to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only vital for women and girls, but critical throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The link between technology and women’s rights is clearly reflected in SDG 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women, which includes a specific target on utilizing technology and ICTs to realize women’s and girls’ empowerment. However, realizing gender equality reaches far beyond any single, individual goal. Gender equality is key to ensuring that no one is left behind, and is intrinsic to the success of each and every SDG.

Where women and girls are able to change their opportunities and perspectives through ICTs, their empowerment affects a wide range of outcomes even in informal work settings: in Pakistan, an innovative food-ordering platform links home-based women in the informal food industry to a wider pool of customers, and provides a safe virtual marketplace for them to sell their meals. In Rwanda, some 3,500 women farmers are now connected through mobile technology to information, markets and finance.

ICTs offer vast potential for women and girls: from ending poverty, to improving education and health, to agricultural productivity, and creating decent jobs.

ICTs are shaping future employment – but who will get those jobs?

ICTs are especially relevant today, as we face a rapidly changing world of work. How can we ensure that women and girls acquire the right ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills to compete on a par with boys and men in the 21st Century economy, enjoy greater choice and access better-educated, better-paid jobs?

By 2020, it is expected that more than 7.1 million jobs will be displaced, and by 2050, half of the jobs that currently exist will have disappeared. That means that 65% of the children entering primary school today could eventually work in jobs that do not yet currently exist. The ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is also bringing advanced robotics, autonomous transport, AI and machine learning, all of which will have a major impact on the future labour market. Along with these challenges come opportunities.

It has been estimated that 90% of future jobs will require ICT skills, and some 2 million new jobs will be created in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields.

The use of technology, manufacturing and production therefore have the potential to support upskilling, redeployment and productivity enhancement. Mobile broadband — or using tablets, mobile phones and other portable devices to access the Internet — represents the fastest technological uptake in human history.

Hotspots are being set up by individuals and technology companies are experimenting with drones, balloons and other innovations to extend access to and use of the Internet. Technical and ICT-related skills across industries also need to be supplemented by broader, stronger collaborative and social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and the ability to learn and teach others.

Are our children learning the right lessons?

A recent study, ‘Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’, shows that already, by the age of 6, girls are already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids. When a young girl believes she is less intelligent and capable than a boy, she is also less likely to pursue STEM subjects that are often perceived as ‘hard’ through school and beyond. This study is one of many that paint a worrying picture of generations of girls being affected by negative stereotyping. New findings from a study of 9,500 girls and young women aged 11 to 18 in nine European countries underline the ‘leaky pipeline” finding: in Finland, 62% of female teenagers said they see the natural sciences as important, but only 37% said they would consider a career in that area.

RELATED: Women’s digital inclusion is key to sustainable economic growth

Un-learning these biases and changing the stereotypes is no simple matter, yet it is essential, if we are to see boys and girls able to compete on a more equal footing for the jobs of the future. This goes hand-in-hand with practical programmes that teach immediately relevant skills. For example, in the Republic of Moldova, GirlsGoITteaches girls digital, IT and entrepreneurial skills and specifically promotes positive role models through video; similarly in Kenya and South Africa, 20 Mozilla Clubs for women and girls teach basic coding and digital literacy skills in safe spaces.

A recently launched Unilever report on stereotyping shows that 77% of men and 55% of women believe that men are the best choice for high-stake projects32. Such beliefs have a sizeable impact on gender equality issues globally, with 60% of women and 49% of men indicating that stereotypes impacted their careers, their personal lives, or both. At the same time, nearly three out of four respondents (70%) believe that the world would be a better place if today’s children were not exposed to the gender stereotypes so prevalent in media and marketing, and so easily disseminated via online media.

So, how do we change the sexist messages that girls and boys are receiving?

This is a complex task that requires action on a number of fronts. We need to invest in programmes that deconstruct negative stereotypes and traditional gender roles, and work with marketers and the media to stop sexist – and sexualized – advertising, and ensure women are portrayed accurately and equally in TV, film and the news media. We also need to work with schools to change the curriculum and with teachers to ensure that they do not have different expectations for boys and girls. Work with private sector partners who are prepared to engage seriously in rectifying gender inequality is a very important aspect of influencing changes for women in the workplace, with results that improve conditions for men too. And we must continue engaging with non-traditional allies, such as local and religious leaders, young people and men and boys. This process of ‘un-stereotyping’, and empowering women to create their own narratives will be crucial to ensuring that ICTs drive progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Positive role models have also proven to be a powerful tool in eliminating gender stereotypes, especially those relating to ICTs and women in STEM, including both perceived role models in the media, as well as real-life mentors and success stories.

We must expose girls and boys to role models in non-traditional fields — such as female engineers or male carers — and give women the chance to tell their own stories through programmes such as the #HerStory campaign, which showcases the stories of women leaders and women who have been forgotten in history books.

The education-to-employment skills gap

Around the world, we are now facing a mismatch between the skills that employers demand and those that workers possess. The global “talent shortage” is currently at 38%, with the top ten hardest jobs to fill in STEM professions. There is currently a 200-million-person shortage of ICT-skilled workers around the world. Although more women than men now graduate from tertiary education in some countries (e.g. in many Pacific small island states), this is not resulting in increased economic opportunities.

To bridge this skills gap, we need to understand and teach the skills that women of all social classes need to take full advantage of ongoing technological advances. As digitization replaces workers (mostly in sectors such as the garment and agricultural industries), the need to offer women updated skills is becoming more critical. In manufacturing, service and agricultural industries (where women are overrepresented), jobs are slowly being replaced by automation. We must help women to learn new skills and competencies, so they can adjust to the changes in these industries or retrain to take up positions in other sectors.

Bridging this skills gap can have added economic advantages. We know that the gender pay gap is often reduced in the STEM fields, where demand for skills is high. According to the US Department of Commerce, in 2009, women in STEM careers earned 33% more than those in non-STEM jobs at comparable levels.

ICTs can also help to bridge the skills gap by extending the reach of education and literacy to a population that was previously excluded due to a lack of infrastructure or political instability.

According to UNDP, 103 million youth worldwide are devoid of basic literacy skills, and more than 60% of them are women. UN Women is currently developing a Virtual Skills School to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind and to offer a second chance at learning to those who had to leave formal education. Through the Virtual Skills School, we intend to provide women and girls with learning pathways that would facilitate their re-integration into formal schooling, and allow them to progress into non-traditional sectors as either job seekers or job creators.

Overcoming the gender digital divide

There are some 250 million fewer women online than men, and the gap is widening (from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016). Access remains concentrated in the developed world – around the world, 53% of the world’s population (equivalent to some 3.9 billion people) are not connected, and in several of Africa’s poorer and more fragile countries, only one person in every 10 people is on the Internet.

Increasing access to online resources is crucial to ensuring women and girls are not left behind in an increasingly digital world, and can, in some cases, catalyze women’s interest in the opportunities offered by technology and ICTs.

For more insights on how ICTs will fast-forward progress on the SDGs, Read:

However, the gender digital divide goes beyond simple access issues – it is also inextricably linked to factors such as technical know-how, education about the benefits of technology, and the content and methods by which relevant skills are taught. For instance, women and girls need to be informed about the opportunities posed by technology and ICTs, so they are empowered to demand greater access.

Bridging the digital divide, changing stereotypes about women in the tech industries and equipping women with the skills they will need to thrive in today’s economy will not happen overnight, but UN Women has several projects underway that are harnessing the power of technology to transform women’s narratives and their way of life.

We are also leveraging partnerships with the private sector, UN agencies and civil society to ensure uptake and use of ICTs and move us closer to closing the gender digital divide. One example of such a successful partnership is UN Women’s HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, which works with ten Heads of State, ten CEOs of major corporations and ten university presidents, on game-changing gender equality commitments. Some of these commitments include expanding mobile phone access to underserved women, providing scholarships to women in STEM fields and teaching girls how to code computer software and apps.

UN Women has also partnered with ITU to launch the EQUALS partnership, with the aim of creating an unstoppable global movement where women and girls are equal participants in the digital technology revolution.

RELATED: Meet the EQUALS in Tech Award winner: Digital Citizen Fund

EQUALS will bring together global technology and ICT partners to empower women and girls by driving progress as well as collecting and analyzing data and statistics in the areas of access, learning and leadership.


Women and girls comprise half of the world’s population. When they are involved at all levels in the implementation of the SDGs, as well as in driving the tech sector, they can help to create user-friendly technology that is responsive to their needs. Each of us have a part to play a part in closing the gender divide, overturning stereotypes and encouraging women and girls to use ICTs and pursue careers in the technology sector. In doing this, we not only empower women and girls, we move closer to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and a better world for all – including for men and boys, as well as women and girls.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

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