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Improving Women’s Economic Status through Trade in Services

Women make up the majority of the world’s poor, yet they account for a significant proportion of small enterprises in developing countries.  To make a sustained impact on reducing poverty, trade development strategies must empower women. The shake-out in demand for goods and services resulting from the food, fuel and financial crises raises important questions. How can we convert export potential into revenue that fosters human development and reduces poverty? We

need to focus on business sectors that have both export potentials and high human development impact, particularly for women. We need to assess and address gender-based constraints to trade. We need to empower women so that they, too, can power trade. Two great features of service industries are that many small and medium-sized firms are involved and they employ more women than any other sector. In contrast to goods, services are easier for small-scale businesses to export. They generally do not need large physical infrastructure in order to trade. Promoting the sector enhances the role of women in the development process.

 

There is no doubt that services export has the potential to significantly boost a firm’s or an entrepreneur’s revenues, which in turn could lead to job creation, and leaving the society better off. Services export benefits the domestic economy by creating jobs and reducing the country’s trade deficit. Women Entrepreneurs are playing an increasing role in diversifying production, especially, in increasing non-oil export. It is in the interest of government to promote aspiring women exporters. It is saddening that policy-makers on many instances overlook the fact that women entrepreneurs due to their unique social positions, require different programs than men. They regard business to be gender neutral, and they experience difficulty implementing different credit and capacity building/ training programs based on gender. As a result, women see themselves excluded from these programs, due to many reasons ranging from women’s reproductive roles,  the time spent caring for children, to the trade-offs families make when there are not enough resources or funds to send both boys and girls to school. Not only that, cultural or religious barriers also prevent strategists from considering women as equals to men, or as being capable of running serious businesses. In many societies it is taken for granted that the man will be the chief breadwinner, and that the woman’s job cannot, or should not  be a significant source of income for the family. Thus, enabling women entrepreneurs to start successful businesses and see them expand may not constitute a priority for policy-makers. It therefore becomes necessary to create incentives and build awareness-raising programmes for policy makers, which can go a long way in addressing these malign issues.

 

Few trade policies or strategies consider gender aspects. Governments need to look beyond what is being produced to consider who is engaged in production so as to achieve results by bringing trade and development strategies in line with national policy objectives. For trade to contribute to poverty reduction, an export strategy must include the poor as target beneficiaries. Because 70% of the world’s poor, Nigeria inclusive, are women, and an export strategy that does not benefit women stands little chance of having a positive impact on reducing poverty. One of the biggest challenges of tracing and fully understanding the ways in which gender can be mainstreamed in the development of export strategies is the absence of sex -disaggregated indicators and data in key export sectors and overall economies. Often times, policy makers dilly-dally on the wrong assumption that women are primarily workers and not entrepreneurs, or that businesswomen mostly serve their own communities and have little use for international support programs

 

On the other hand, achieving each of the MDGs, especially ‘Goal 3- Promote gender equality and empower women’,  depends on access to services infrastructure such as communications and transport services, but more particularly access to essential services like  health and education. ‘Target 11: eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and in all levels of education no later than 2015,’ Indicator 11: ‘Increasing the ‘share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector.’ The collection of sex-disaggregated data by sector and sub-sector, is imperative and can be used to otherwise determine the socioeconomic position of women and help bring an element of realism into planning and training. Goal 3 specifically aims to promote gender equality and empower women and in concomitant obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Managing the impact of trade liberalization on women is of great necessity if national policy objectives, including those set out in the preamble of the Marrakesh Agreements Establishing the WTO, are to be achieved.  Actually, Trade should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, and even ensuring full employment. The ability of women to continue to contribute, hinges on the government actively working to create a business and social environment favorable to women’s needs as workers and consumers. Therefore, movement of women into services and manufacturing is seen as a positive indicator of labor market flexibility.

 

Furthermore, women perform better with greater results when they are empowered economically. The efforts of the First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan in advocating heavily for women’s participation in politics and the 35% affirmative rights for women will be easily complimented if women’s economic statuses are addressed through increased awareness and involvement in trade in services. Women campaign on an on-going basis to increase women’s participation in Nigerian politics as Women have continued to be under-represented in decision making arena. Democracy is not working when women are not fully represented. Women’s political participation is in fact, paramount in order to have more balanced and better politics. Women’s involvement in politics is essential in seeking to have more women in decision-making positions.

 

Many factors still hinder women’s political participation, such as political parties being slow to respond to women’s interest, under –investment in women candidate’s campaign, cultural barriers, and conflicting demands on the time of women candidates due to their domestic and social responsibilities. Government has established various mechanisms at different levels-including national machineries-to mainstream gender in the formation of policies, plans and programs, policy advocacy and to monitor and evaluate the implementation of international, regional and national commitments. Particular attention has been given to the formation of national gender policies and implementation plans.

 

The economic empowerment of women is fundamental to poverty reduction in any nation, and helping women succeed will mean improved education, reduced Maternal mortality and will provision of a way out from violence. Trade not only brings with it foreign exchange, but also a sense of broader horizons. The collection of sex-disaggregated data by sector and sub-sector is imperative and can be used to otherwise determine the socioeconomic position of women and help bring an element of realism into planning and training.  Services can be crucial in stimulating product exports and are critical in maintaining such transactions. Many merchandise exports would not take place if they were not supported by service activities such as banking, insurance, accounting, legal, ICT and transportation.

 

There are, however, many obvious differences between services and products. Some aspects that differentiate the exporting of services from products include intangibility and customer involvement. Since services are less tangible than products, communicating a service offer is much more difficult than communicating a product offer. Also, services frequently must be tailored to the specific needs of the client. This adaptation often necessitates the client’s direct participation and cooperation. The involvement of the client requires the service provider to possess interpersonal skills and cultural sensitivity.

 

Contrary to conventional trade policy thinking, as earlier noted, trade policy is not gender neutral. For example, where export-processing zones have been established to generate a comparative advantage in the global playing field, production-line work can be performed by men or women. However, gender biases resulting in occupational segregation have lead to a situation where women workers dominate, throughout the world, in certain sectors and sub-sectors. This means that the trade agreements which impact these sectors impact women and men differently. An estimated 73 per cent of women workers are in the services sector, concentrated, for example, in the business services sector, call centers and tourism. Adjustments to the legal, regulatory and policy framework in the services sector are not gender-neutral. Women are affected more than men. The General Agreements on Trade in Services, GATS established a fairly comprehensive legal framework of rules and disciplines across 12 services sectors, which cover some 161 sub-sectors or separate service activities. The list is used by most governments to identify service sectors and sub-sectors in their schedule of commitments. These sectors are each divided into sub-sectors, which themselves contain subgroups. For example, tourism and travel-related services is further divided into sub-sectors for (A) hotels and restaurants, (B) travel agencies and tour operators, (C) tourist guides, and (D) other

 

All the same, training, business-matching and connections to regional and global supply chains are critical to export success. A gender balance in training courses is optimum in most circumstances. This affects positively women, and gives them the confidence to launch out and improve on their  economic stands. Sometimes, several factors affect women’s decisions to participate in such capacity building events. These include whether a man or woman delivers the training, where it takes place and the schedule too. To promote exports, it is necessary to improve national service export readiness. This could be done by providing affordable access to telecommunications, maintaining high educational standards and building the country’s credibility as a provider of high-quality services. In general, in order to achieve such laudable objectives of increased welfare gains, rising standards of living and full employment for women, government needs to complement trade policy with flanking policies that can aid in achieving these aims. Increasing the participation of women in entrepreneurships is critical to long term economic prosperity.  Fostering women’s entrepreneurship and building their capacity to sell into the international market can have a multiplier effect in the domestic economy. It is still saddening that women find it much more difficult assessing loans for expansion than men. In accessing credit, the issue here is how to take steps to ensure that loan applications are considered on the strength of the individual case, not on the sex of the applicant. It is paramount that positive and more impacting steps are taken by government to ensure an equitable approach which could include conditions on market access in the scheduling of commitments in the financial services sector.  A lot of concerns have been raised that unfettered

Financial services liberalization may impede access to micro-credit and rural development, both of which are closely linked to women.

 

For women to grow their businesses and expand in an increasingly competitive world, they have to have equal access to the opportunities, support and benefits that male owned businesses have. When women entrepreneurs are included in mainstream fora, chambers, discussions and networks, and research, they have a profound influence in a variety of ways. Participation brings increased awareness of the role and success of women. It increases the visibility of women and increases the potential for more business and growth. Participation of women entrepreneurs can influence the way new policy is made and alter government programs so that they do not exclude or hinder women entrepreneurs.

By:

NKIRU JOY OKPALA (ESQ).

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