How women in developing countries can harness e-commerce

women laptop

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Annette Ssemuwemba, Deputy Director, Enhanced Integrated Framework, World Trade Organization


• 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?

The top reason among women for not using the internet is lack of know-how
The top reason among women for not using the internet is lack of know-how
Image: Webfoundation.org

The female connectivity gap

While there is significant potential for e-businesses to grow in LDCs, the environment in many countries is not conducive to such enterprises developing and thriving – and this is especially so for women-owned MSMEs.

The first and fundamental requirement for an e-business is access to the internet. The data from ITU shows that one in seven women in LDCs uses the internet, compared with one out of five men. Further, most e-commerce transactions are carried out by phone, and studies show that there is still a gap in female connectivity. Although awareness of mobile internet is growing in most markets, it remains consistently lower for women than men. Once online, women are 30 to 50% less likely than men to use the internet to increase their income or participate in public life.

MSMEs in the e-commerce space struggle with basic infrastructure challenges like establishing functional supply chains and reliable logistics. E-trade readiness studies undertaken by UNCTAD reveal deficiencies in various areas such as strategies and policies for e-commerce development, payments, legal and regulatory frameworks, and access to financing, among others. Only 14 out of the 47 LDCs have legislation for online consumer protection. For women, these challenges are exacerbated given the limitations they face like access to finance and skills, as well as cultural barriers.

In order to ensure no one is left behind in this space, governments, the private sector, aid for trade programmes such as the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), and civil society all have complementary roles to play. The following actions need to be prioritized, with some fast-tracked in view of technology’s rapid rate of change.

Proportion of men and women using the internet around the world
Proportion of men and women using the internet around the world
Image: ITU.int

Cambodia leads the way on policy

The policy space is the most important area of change needed. LDC governments need to improve and update the legislative and regulatory frameworks covering consumer protection, private security of transactions, ICT and payment infrastructure. EIF is currently supporting nine countries to carry out eTrade Readiness Assessments, a process that enables countries to prioritize the actions necessary to harness the potential of e-commerce. This is particularly important considering that only 1% of all aid for trade is allocated to ICT solutions.

Cambodia was one of the first countries to undergo an eTrade Readiness Assessment in 2017, and has been using the analysis to guide its digital trade efforts. The Ministry of Commerce mapped the assessment’s recommendations and has worked to better align them with donor priorities. The study laid the groundwork for chapters on e-commerce and ICT in the recently launched Cambodia Trade Integration Strategy Update 2019-2023. Building on this, EIF is now supporting Cambodia to develop a robust e-commerce ecosystem, and a Cambodia-owned and -managed marketplace. This support is especially targeted at women-owned businesses and provincial MSMEs to tackle identified bottlenecks and grow their businesses online.

Skilling up for the future

Capacity is critical in empowering MSMEs to thrive in the e-commerce space. Potential female digital entrepreneurs in LDCs cannot get businesses up and running unless they have the skills required. But what skills do they need?

It is essential to first identify those needs, then deliver training accordingly. EIF is working not only to identify and improve the skills of entrepreneurs, but also offers LDC governments what they need to ensure they can formulate and implement policies that create an e-commerce-ready environment.

In south Asia, EIF has joined forces with UNESCAP to build the capacity of women entrepreneurs to join e-commerce platforms to expand their business exports and participate in local, regional and global supply chains. Similarly, in the Gambia, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative is providing one-on-one coaching to entrepreneurs in the fashion sector, so they can target international customers online.

Providing coaching and mentoring opportunities to entrepreneurs so they have the knowledge and experience they need to succeed has enabled female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in the digital space.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – driven by rapid technological change and digitalization – has already had a profound impact on global trade, economic growth and social progress. Cross-border e-commerce has generated trillions of dollars in economic activity continues to accelerate and the ability of data to move across borders underpins new business models, boosting global GDP by 10% in the last decade alone.

The application of emerging technologies in trade looks to increase efficiency and inclusivity in global trade by enabling more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to repeat its benefits and by closing the economic gap between developed and developing countries.

However, digital trade barriers including outdated regulations and fragmented governance of emerging technologies could potentially hamper these gains. We are leading the charge to apply 4IR technologies to make international trade more inclusive and efficient, ranging from enabling e-commerce and digital payments to designing norms and trade policies around emerging technologies (‘TradeTech’).

In Uganda, young fashion entrepreneurs are marketing their products to those outside the country through social media like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Kyaligonza is one of those who received mentoring and training, and has opened a virtual clothing store beyond her Kampala shops. She has in turn passed her knowledge on to the young fashion designers who work with her, enabling all of them to meet the online demand for African clothes and fabrics. As a result, she has international customers who place orders virtually, pay directly through their phones using WorldRemit and other platforms, and receive their goods via international couriers. Her international customer base is growing exponentially.

E-commerce should be considered one of the driving forces in women’s economic empowerment. Let’s make sure we make it happen.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Factory workers are facing a mental health crisis. Here’s how to respond

UN chief hails ‘positive developments’ towards ending political crisis in Bolivia

Russia accepts what the EU has to offer and settles to negotiate with Ukraine

This lethal fungus is threatening to wipe out the world’s bananas

Why India can show us how to achieve growth with purpose

4 ways the way we make things can change for a sustainable world

Coronavirus: Commission presents practical guidance to ensure continuous flow of goods across EU via green lanes

Here’s why e-mobility must be at the heart of the green recovery

Parliament wants to suspend EU accession negotiations with Turkey

Yemen: 11 more ‘terrible, senseless’ civilian deaths reported, following attack in Sana’a – top UN official

Here’s how we solve the global crisis of tribalism and democratic decay

A small group of world leaders are standing together against inequality

Israel @ MWC14: Israel The Start App Nation

In a state of war: COVID-19 and psychiatric support

The green hydrogen revolution has started, and it won’t be stopped

Venezuela must guarantee judicial impartiality – UN human rights expert

3 strategies for Africa to thrive in this new era of globalization

Trade is not a weapon. Let’s not use it as one

Why we need to redefine trust for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

MWC 2016 LIVE: Ingenu steps up efforts to build LPWA networks across the globe

The Future of Balkans: Embracing Education

Why we need artists who strive for social change

Global leaders and companies pledge to reduce the gender pay gap by 2030

Fair minimum wages: Commission launches second-stage consultation of social partners

How bad is the Eurozone economy? The ECB thinks too bad

Asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, symptomatic: what is the difference?

Burkina Faso : The EU reaffirms its support during this humanitarian and security crisis

Preferential tariffs to help Western Sahara to develop

Commission celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Jean Monnet Activities promoting European studies worldwide

Quantum leap: why the next wave of computers will change the world

Four ways innovation can help to beat heart disease

India m2m + iot Forum Hosts Successful 4th Editions of India Smart Cities Forum and India Smart Villages Forum

A very good morning in European markets

Financial services: Commission sets out its equivalence policy with non-EU countries

You can live up to 10 years longer by doing these 5 things

We now know how much ice Antarctica has lost in the last 25 years – three trillion tonnes

International Women’s Day 2019: more equality, but change is too slow

Hungary: Commission takes next step in the infringement procedure for non-provision of food in transit zones

EU unfolds strategy on the Egypt question

The European Youth explains the age gap in European business in the 21st century

How to have a good Fourth Industrial Revolution

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Blue’ finance flows in the Seychelles

The Swiss will pay dearly for voting out fellow Europeans

UN chief urges restraint following reported Saudi-led assault in Yemen

Brazil: A strategic partner for the EU

A day in the life of a Venezuelan migrant in Boa Vista, Brazil

Malaria could be gone by the middle of the century. Here’s how

‘Eco-shaming’ is on the rise, but does it work?

Countries must up their game to reduce low birth weights, warns UN-backed report

A question of trust: the UN political chief working behind the scenes to prevent tomorrow’s wars

Tackling terrorism: MEPs approve tighter rules on homemade explosives

Refugee crisis update: Commission is struggling alone with little help from EU or G7 leaders

These innovations could keep us cool without warming the planet

Why this city is paying people to move there

Scaling for success: SMEs, tech innovations and the ITU Telecom World Awards 2019, in association with The European Sting

Air Pollution Control: Does Your Action Matter?

Nicaragua crisis: One year in, more than 60,000 have fled, seeking refuge

European Parliament strengthens EU consumer protection rules

Australian homes are turning to solar power in record numbers

The global response to the coronavirus pandemic must not be undermined by bribery

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s