The International Trade Centre (ITC) and Visa (NYSE: V) today launched a partnership to increase the participation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and women-led businesses in international trade. The announcement was made at the 28th World Economic Forum Africa taking place in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – outlining a framework of cooperation to build capacity and opportunities for small enterprises to engage in cross-border commerce – was signed by ITC’s Executive Director and Co-Chair of the WEF Africa meeting, Ms. Arancha González, and Visa’s Global Head of Government Engagement, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis. The collaboration links ITC’s extensive network and technical expertise in global trade with Visa’s 60 years of experience in delivering digital payments, strengthening cybersecurity and fostering financial inclusion.

“As a brand and global citizen, Visa is committed to ensuring that these small and micro enterprises are able to benefit from global trade,” said Ambassador Marantis. “We couldn’t be prouder to partner with ITC. For us, this is just the beginning of a sustained commitment to ITC and its work with small businesses and women-led companies in developing markets around the world.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economies,” said Ms González. “When we invest in MSMEs, especially women owned businesses, we see multiple development, growth and job creation dividends at the local, regional and international level. The private sector plays a pivotal role in advancing progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ITC is extremely pleased to partner with Visa to achieve this.”

Identifying and activating opportunities for women-led business is at the heart of this partnership. Visa and ITC will work together to find solutions for overcoming the distinct cultural, regulatory and financial impediments to the success of women-led enterprises and enable their integration in global trade. As part of its ongoing commitment to support female entrepreneurs, Visa will work with ITC to provide those enterprises access to Visa’s powerful global platform and strong network of women business owners, advancing ITC’s objective of connecting 3 million women to international markets by 2021 as part of its SheTrades initiative.

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The International Trade Centre (ITC) today announced a new call for women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses to apply to join SheTrades Invest for an opportunity to receive training and ultimately finance to grow their businesses.

A project of the SheTrades Initiative, SheTrades Invest will be open to women-owned businesses in the countries in which SheTrades has partner investors across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.

All applications will be reviewed and selected companies will gain access to learning opportunities and technical assistance provided by ITC and its partners to improve their investment readiness and competitiveness. Companies selected for the training will also be assessed by a growing network of investors looking to fund promising enterprises and ideas.

The second phase of SheTrades Invest will be covering the following sectors: agriculture; artisan; culture; education; energy; environment; financial services; health; housing development; information and communication technologies; Infrastructure and facilities development; manufacturing; supply-chain services; technical assistance services; textile and clothing; tourism; transport and logistics; and water.

During the first phase of SheTrades Invest, ITC trained over 600 women and businesses on topics related to investment readiness and conducted boot camps in five countries in partnership with local accelerators and other partners.

Women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses interested in joining SheTrades Invest are requested to apply before 30 September 2019. For more information on the application criteria, please visit:

For investors who are interested in joining SheTrades Invest please email us on

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African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) is a four-year programme designed to train young girls to become programmers and ICT creators, and encourage further education and careers in technology. Launched in 2018, the AGCCI is a joint initiative between ITU, UN Women and the African Union Commission, which holds several camps throughout the year across Africa.

From 29 July to 16 August 2019, 450 girls are participating in three coding workshops and talks being held in Addis Ababa, Adama and Awassa as part of the AGCCI initiative.

For World Youth Day, ITU asked Betty G, a singer/songwriter from Ethiopia and Girls in ICT Day champion, to explain why she is an advocate for girls in technology and to share her experiences from her visit to the African Girls Can Code Initiative workshop in Addis Ababa.

In April this year, Betty G participated in the global celebration of Girls in ICT Day at an event organized by ITU in Addis Ababa. She visited two schools, where she advocated for Girls in ICT and encouraged girls to pursue technology studies.

Girl prepares a circuit board

We live in a world full of technology where everything we do is supported by it. Technology is making our lives better and easier. But as it becomes more advanced – like AI, driverless cars and virtual reality – those without the skills to participate will be left behind.

In fact, technology will create 133 million new jobs around the world by 2022, according to the World Economic Forum. That is why it is especially important that we champion getting more girls involved in the technology field so they can access these job opportunities.

Coding is important for everyone; it’s a different and very useful way of teaching logic and broadening creativity skills while teaching the ability to apply skills to real world situations. Not only is it an instrument for education and the future of work, it is also a tool for empowerment.

The African Girls Can Code initiative teaches girls how to programme robots, to create animations and code with Scratch; each time they would try something new, they would change their mind-set of “I can’t” to “I can”.

Seeing a promising future meant the world to me, especially in my hometown of Addis Ababa. It was inspiring to see girls ready to learn and face the challenges put in front of them.

That is why I think that we need more events as engaging and participatory as African Girls Can Code. The more we teach and show them how to use these core skills, the better these young girls’ choices will be in life.

Creating platforms for women to collaborate and share their knowledge of coding and technology in general will yield fruitful results for everyone. Young women and girls can have a huge impact on the growth of Africa’s technology ecosystem. If taught to trust in their ability, women challenge existing stereotypes and narratives; they create vibrant, innovative working environments and inspire others to follow their lead.

Being a girl in a developing country is very challenging; in many places, we don’t have equal access to basic services like health, employment and education. So, supporting young women and girls in technology education will not only change their lives, but will help them pave a smooth path for their families, their countries and the entire continent.

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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!

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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.



Electronic commerce has great potential to boost the economic empowerment of women but only if the right conditions are in place to unlock these benefits, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said at a workshop on Women in Digital Trade held at the WTO on 1 July. Recent commitments relating to the digital economy and women’s participation in trade at the latest G20 leaders meeting in Osaka signal the growing importance of these issues, he said. This is what he said:

DG Azevêdo: Global cooperation on digital economy vital to unlock trade benefits for women
DG Azevêdo: Global cooperation on digital economy vital to unlock trade benefits for women

Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton (Director, Division on International Trade and Commodities, UNCTAD),
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning – and welcome to this workshop on digital trade and gender. It is great to have you all here with us today.

At the outset, I would like to thank the European Union, Senegal, and Trinidad and Tobago for organizing this event, as well as all of the speakers joining us for this important discussion.

Today’s workshop is the fifth in a series of discussions sparked by the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade.

The aim remains to promote women’s economic empowerment by tackling barriers that hamper their participation in global trade.

As part of these efforts, members have been working to improve their understanding of the issues. Since Buenos Aires, thematic workshops have been held on a range of specific topics to share best practices and national experiences.

Today, we are continuing to develop the conversation, looking specifically at how digital trade can offer new opportunities for women.

This conversation is clearly in tune with the broader global debate.

I have just returned from the G20 leaders’ meeting in Osaka, where these issues were high on the agenda. You may have seen the Osaka Declaration on the Digital Economy, signed by 24 world leaders, in support of international rule-making in this area and further progress at the WTO.
G20 leaders also pledged their strong support for women’s empowerment at the Summit. Clearly digital economy and women’s economic empowerment reinforce each other.

This is very encouraging – and I think we have to recognise the scale of opportunity that the digital economy provides, especially for women, small and medium enterprises, and other more excluded groups, like rural communities in developing and least developed countries.

It can be transformational in helping to tackle trade costs and help many more join global trade flows.

E-commerce platforms have already made it easier to connect buyers and sellers worldwide, opening new opportunities for companies to tap into global markets.

We are also seeing these new technologies incorporated in trade rules. Digitalizing customs procedures is a key provision of the Trade Facilitation Agreement. Similarly, the Government Procurement Agreement also encourages the use of e-procurement tools.

There is no doubt about the potential of these new technologies to promote economic benefits, when accompanied by appropriate complementary policies.

But on the flipside, this potential can only be fully realised if we are prepared to agree on new rules and practices for the digital economy. If we do not, then the outcome could be fragmentation and a proliferation of technological regulations.

This would mean higher costs and higher barriers to entry. And this would also mean that many, including women entrepreneurs, could be excluded from the opportunities that the digital economy offers.

We can’t let this happen.

We also have to get the basics right and ensure fair access to connectivity.

At present, big gaps persist. The International Telecommunications Union reports that the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men. This gender gap widens to around 33% in least developed countries.

Research also shows that in Africa, over 40 per cent of women are not able to effectively engage with digital tools for personal and professional activities.

This is very concerning. We have to ensure that everybody can benefit from this digital revolution. We know that tackling these gaps could unlock enormous potential.

For example, according to a McKinsey report, the e-commerce market in Indonesia is booming. It is projected to grow up to eightfold from 2017 to 2022, from $8 billion up to $65 billion. This can facilitate many opportunities for women’s economic empowerment. Women-led businesses generate up to 35 per cent of online revenue, compared with 15 per cent in offline retail.

Globally, reports estimate that enabling internet access for 150 million women would contribute an estimated US$ 13-18 billion to the annual GDP of 144 developing countries.

This is clearly very positive. But this is not only about the economic issues. It is also about building the more inclusive world we all wish to see.

Today’s workshop aims to shed light on all these issues – and to explore how digital trade can offer these opportunities for women and women-led businesses.

Throughout the day you will look at a number of issues and fields where further work could make a big impact.

This includes capacity building initiatives. They can be an important tool to help address gender digital literacy gaps.

There are some good initiatives already being implemented. For instance, the EIF and UNESCAP are partnering to provide such training to women in South Asia.

The programme aims to improve women entrepreneurs’ knowledge, to expand their businesses through exports and participate in value chains using e-commerce platforms.

The role of the Aid for Trade initiative in removing obstacles that women face when trading is another topic that merits much deeper discussion – and which will be brought into sharp focus in the course of the week, during the Global Review.

Of course, there are many more aspects where we could take action. It is great that during this workshop we’ll have a chance to hear directly from some women entrepreneurs about their stories, the challenges that they face and ways to overcome them.

The world is changing at a fantastic pace. There’s no denying that.

I have no doubt that international cooperation has an important role to play in ensuring that the rise of the digital economy continues to be an engine of inclusive economic development.

So let’s keep working to that end. Thank you. I wish you a very productive discussion.


A crowdfunding platform for women farmers, online marketplaces for women-produced goods and services, and e-wallet enabled lending were among ten of the winning business models which will be co-funded by the United Nations to improve access to finance for women-owned, managed or led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the region.

Launched by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in March 2019, the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will support the implementation of the winning private sector FinTech and digital business solutions for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.

“We received over 100 innovative proposals from businesses registered in more than 20 countries around the region. The breadth of proposals received was impressive. It is encouraging to see how digital finance and digital solutions can be used to address some of the barriers women-led MSMEs face in accessing finance and advancing their business. ESCAP is grateful to the Government of Canada for their support to this initiative,” shared ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Hongjoo Hahm.

MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to the GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific experience financial access constraints. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.

“To address the issues that female business owners face, we need entrepreneur-centric solutions that will allow her to grow her business and reach her full potential,” said Andrew Shaw, Senior Advisor, Fintech and Financial Inclusion at the Dutch development Bank (FMO).

The Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund provides risk capital and technical assistance to pilot technology enabled financial service solutions for women-led enterprises. Out of the 110 applications received, the top 30 proposals were asked to pitch their ideas to an independent investment committee made up of industry experts and regulators.

Over the next year, ESCAP and UNCDF will provide financial and technical support to the ten winning companies as they develop and pilot their business initiatives. In the short-term, the initiatives aim to support more than 9,000 women led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam. The winning companies include the following:

“Transforming towards digital economy requires inclusive partnerships and concerted effort towards enhancing MSMEs competitiveness. We thank ESCAP, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Canada, FMO and Visa for their collaboration and support for bringing in the much-needed synergy on advancing women MSMEs through use of the UNCDF SHIFT Innovation Fund mechanism,” said Rajeev Kumar Gupta, SHIFT ASEAN and SAARC Programme Manager, UNCDF.

Similarly, Mr. Arif Qayyum, Senior Director of Social Impact in Asia Pacific, Visa, stated: “We believe that given the right opportunities and support, women owned-business and entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on economic growth. Partnerships such as the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will give FinTechs the support they need to implement locally-relevant solutions to help more women-owned MSMEs thrive with access to formal financial services.”

The Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme ‘Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by ESCAP in partnership with UNCDF. The programme aims to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region through addressing the challenges faced at three levels: enabling policy environment, access to finance and use of ICT for entrepreneurship. Funding support is also provided by FMO and Visa Inc.

For more information about the winning business models and how they plan to support women entrepreneurs, please visit:


By Deanna Ramsay  Managing Editor, Trade for Development News, Enhanced Integrated Framework Executive Secretariat, World Trade Organization & Violeta Gonzalez   Head, Partnerships, Outreach and Resource Mobilization, Enhanced Integrated Framework Executive Secretariat, World Trade Organization

Women could have a big impact on struggling economies, with studies showing improved gender parity goes hand-in-hand with greater growth. Yet least developed countries (LDCs) face considerable hurdles in improving women’s lives and realizing these benefits.

LDCs are home to approximately one billion people – a figure set to increase by 33% by 2030. From Burkina Faso to Cambodia to Kiribati, many LDCs are striving to transform precarity into power. With G20 countries playing a major role as investors, donors and development partners to support LDC progress, the advancement of LDC women is critical to achieving this goal.

The W20, the G20’s official engagement group on women, is presenting a Communiqué to G20 leaders at the 2019 summit in Osaka that urges action to close the global gender gap and offers specific recommendations. Given LDCs’ particular constraints in attaining gender equality, here are four ways to lift up their women and, simultaneously, the world’s poorest countries.

1. Make trade safe for women

Women drive trade on the busy borders between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and their neighbours. They do so while facing security issues and harassment, carrying heavy loads and waiting in long lines, all with a lack of childcare and information about customs rules.

Simire Cibolonza, a DRC trader, now has stronger ties to the women in Rwandafrom whom she regularly buys cabbages. This is a result of a newly signed trade agreement between the two countries, which have experienced decades of conflict.

UNCTAD, ‘The Least Developed Countries Report 2018

On the other side of the border in Rwanda, women are forming cooperatives that are easing their access to information and finance. New infrastructure means some women can now trade from the safety of a marketplace – and there are even childcare options.

As United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said at the Tokyo W20: “Make women part of your solutions, or you will fail”.

2. Bring more women into the workforce

Small enterprises are highly prevalent in LDCs, and self-employment is estimated at 70% of total employment. Therefore achieving gender parity in the labour force involves addressing, among other issues, assumptions about women’s roles and the multiple barriers for women to start businesses, as recommended in the W20 Communiqué.

Some work is traditionally gender-segregated, and such societal norms can be hard to overcome. But sometimes, small changes mean new gender-neutral professions can be created.

UNCTAD, ‘The Least Developed Countries Report 2018’

For example, in Zambia honey collecting is usually done by men, as beehives are placed high in trees and sometimes far from homes. But the introduction of a different sort of hive that can be kept on the ground nearby has meant women can now be beekeepers, and make money doing so.

“This is not a job which only a man can do”, said Dorothy Mambwe of the Kabule Women’s Beekeeping Group, which now sells its honey in bulk to local processors.

“This has helped us a lot, because from the same money you can buy other stuff, and sell…I know in the future we are going to have a lot of customers.”

Japan is hosting the 2019 G20 summit, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is known for his “womenomics” goal of getting more Japanese women into the workforce. On reducing the gender gap, W20 Japan Co-chair Haruno Yoshida has recommended incentivizing employers “to implement evidence-based policies and to publicize their progress” and incentivizing investors “to incorporate gender factors in analysis and decision-making”.

3. Make spaces for female expertise

When was the last time you heard the perspective of a female civil servant in Vanuatu or a trade director in Malawi or a weaver in Nepal?

“My lack of schooling didn’t hinder me, but made me realize that I am an author of poverty through first-hand experience”, said Damchae Dem of the Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs, who pitched her business idea to a Geneva audience at the Global Forum on Inclusive Trade for LDCs.

“I stood there amongst strangers, purposeful and fearless for I carried with me the aspirations of not only women from Bhutan but every woman shackled by poverty.”

Women like Dem have perspectives and experiences that are commonly overlooked. Their assessments of development, gender and business in LDCs are vital.

International Trade Centre Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez called at the W20 for more women in trade and related fields, and for more female expert voices to be heard in the media. The placement of more and more women on an equal footing to men in global conversations will do much to shift perceptions and foster change. One platform for such conversations and for LDC voices could be the W20, a valuable forum for informing G20 action.

4. Facilitate equal access to technology

Technology can work to exacerbate gender inequalities. Globally, the share of women accessing the internet is 12% less than the share of men. In LDCs, it is 31% less. And according to UNCTAD’s 2018 LDC Report, the gender gap in internet use in LDCs widened between 2013 and 2017.

It is essential to bridge this digital gender divide, which intersects with – and impacts – the development divide. LDCs are far behind in ICT infrastructure and internet access. According to the UNCTAD report, “only 17.5% of the population in LDCs accessed the internet in 2017, compared with 41.3% in developing countries and 81% in developed countries”.

The W20 Japan is recommending that G20 leaders act to boost training in and equal use of technology to ensure no woman is left behind. This is especially urgent and essential for LDCs.


In line with the European Development Days 2019’s overarching title ‘Addressing inequalities: building a world which leaves no one behind’, UNIDO organized a LAB Debate on 19th of June on “How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA region?”, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Women. Tackling gender inequality is an intricate and lengthy process, but digital technology can help fast-track progress. Digital transformation gives women the possibility to access finance, integrate into national and even regional and global value chains, as well as access knowledge. Although bridging the digital gender divide cannot solve all the challenges that women in the MENA region face, it carries significant potential towards gender equality.

“Now is the time to upgrade the engagement model and move from enablement to the power of role models to unlock the full potential of the talented women of the MENA region,” said Liat Shentser, Director of Systems Engineering Sales at Cisco Systems International.

Moderated by Monica Carcò, Chief, Rural Entrepreneurship, Job Creation and Human Security Division, the session discussed and showcased i) how policy and regulation can best optimize incentives for market players to innovate, compete and invest along gender-sensitive technologies in the MENA, ii) the role of ICTs in facilitating women’s integration in value chains and iii) the type of partnerships that have proven effective in engaging women both as consumers and producers of digital technologies. Carcò said, “To support women-led businesses in taking full advantage of ICT, well-informed programmes and policies addressing their specific challenges and needs are a prerequisite. To this end, UNIDO is soon to launch a survey on women entrepreneurs’ access to and use of ICT and digital technology in the MENA region.”

The insightful panel discussions resulted with numerous recommendations, including the need for well-informed policies, data collection and monitoring of created impact. Equally important,  making women part of the decision-making process, having more investments in technologies that are targeting women, and promoting women role models, particularly those in middle to top management positions, will  play a significant role in limiting the gender-blind approach in innovation.  Finally, designing and building up impact-driven public-private partnerships remain a key enabling modality to deliver concrete results.



By Johanna Törnström, Assistant Programme Manager, Capacity Building Directorate, WCO

Gender equality and diversity has been part of the WCO capacity building agenda since 2013. In continuing its efforts to promote the advancement of gender equality and diversity in Customs, the WCO launched a number of new tools and initiatives in the past year.


Launched in 2013, the GEOAT enables Customs administrations to self-assess their existing policies and procedures on gender equality, in order to identify areas where improvement may be needed. To advance its equality agenda, the WCO has fine-tuned the GEOAT, aligning it to international practices, with the support of the WCO Virtual Working Group on Gender Equality and Diversity.

New content includes definitions of gender equality and diversity-related concepts, a chapter on how to implement gender mainstreaming through project management, and a list of cross-cutting indicators aimed at supporting the transversal implementation of gender equality in Customs. In addition, the language of the GEOAT has been revised, and additional explanations have been added to highlight that gender equality concerns and benefits everyone.




A new e-learning module on “Advancing gender equality in Customs” has been published on the WCO CLiKC! Platform. It is available in both English and French, and has been optimized for small screens and tablets. The module targets all Customs officials, and aims to raise general awareness on gender equality and its links to Customs reform and modernization.

The tool mixes theory and practical exercises. For instance, users are asked to put themselves in the shoes of a hiring manager facing problems with sexual harassment complaints in the workplace or of a manager having to improve the safety and overall performance at a border post.

Funded by the Government of Finland, through the Finland East and Southern Africa Capacity Building Programme, this module forms part of the WCO’s Blended Training Package on gender equality in Customs, which also consists of a five-day workshop targeting senior managers on how to implement gender mainstreaming in Customs.


With a long-term objective, a compendium of case studies and best practices that could be used as a complement to the GEOAT is also being developed within the Virtual Working Group, which currently gathers officials from 34 countries. They meet every two months via an online meeting platform to exchange experiences and best practices on gender equality and diversity-related initiatives within Customs.

Some of the topics discussed at these meetings include “Gender Equality and Trade Facilitation,” “How to handle resistance when working with gender equality,” and “How to monitor gender equality policies.” Several case studies have already been collected on ways to promote work-life balance (Australia, Finland, Israel and the Maldives), and on ways to develop communication and awareness-raising initiatives on gender equality in Customs (Indonesia).


To get a better overview of the initiatives and practices implemented by its Members, the WCO ran a second survey at the beginning of 2019. The first survey run in 2016 generated 60 replies. This time, the WCO translated the survey into six languages, and has received 93 responses to date. The second survey is more comprehensive: it includes questions, not only related to gender balance, but also work-life balance initiatives, the prevention of sexual harassment, and Customs’ collaboration with women’s business associations.

The figures from the second survey show that Customs is still a male dominated sector. Women average around 38% of the workforce, although this figure varies between 5.9 and 73% from country to country. The number of women is even lower in senior and middle management positions with an average of 28% in senior management positions and 34% in middle management positions. However, 17 respondents indicated that they have more women than men in their Customs workforce.

In terms of work-life balance initiatives, 74% of respondents indicated that they have implemented one or several initiatives in this regard, including flexible working hours and/or awareness-raising campaigns on well-being issues. Moreover, around 81% of respondents indicated that they have implemented measures to prevent sexual harassment, such as developing codes of conduct, and around 19% have established proactive collaboration with women’s business associations.

While the survey responses show great progress in many countries and an increasing interest in gender equality and diversity-related issues, it also demonstrates that more awareness is needed on the benefits that gender equality can bring, both at an organizational level and in terms of sustainable development.

The WCO encourages its Member Customs administrations to make use of the newly developed tools to gain a better understanding of how to improve and further advance gender equality and diversity both within their workforces and vis-à-vis external stakeholders, while also urging them to actively get involved in the work of the Virtual Working Group.