Women and Trade: Towards an Enabling Ecosystem in India

In recent years India has increasingly come to recognize the importance of empowering women and promoting gender equality in its growth story. However, the multitude of schemes and initiatives supporting entrepreneurship among women are primarily focussed on handholding early-stage development. The focus is on capacity building, mentoring and small value collateral free starting loans. Support for internationalization of women-owned enterprises through targeted measures to boost women’s participation in international trade has lagged. This policy brief identifies the key gaps and recommends an active affirmative strategy of gender mainstreaming across three composite elements of the enabling ecosystem for trade – a clear guiding vision, institutional set-up and international cooperation. It is recommended that the upcoming Foreign Trade Policy which is slated for 2021-2026 be used to mainstream gender in the national trade agenda. The recognition of the gender specific impediments and
vulnerabilities that women entrepreneurs face should be reflected in both the vision and strategy, with a holistic focus on export promotion, integration in global value chains (GVCs), ease of doing business, and trade facilitation. Secondly, there is need for a robust institutional set-up underpinned by support programs and incentives, regular gender consultation, timely collection of gender disaggregated data and impact assessment. With gender equality considerations gaining traction in bilateral and multilateral trade discussions and agreements, India should also include women entrepreneurs as important stakeholders in domestic consultations on free trade agreements and their aspirations and concerns should be reflected in the final texts through gender responsive provisions.