Women Supporting Women
Fast-tracking a digital economy future in developing countries. UNCTAD eWeek 2023: Shaping the future of the digital economy. International Conference Centre of Geneva (CICG). 4 December 2023. UNCTAD Photo / Marcel Crozet

The eTrade week held in Geneva from 4 to 9 December 23 brought together over 2,500 stakeholders for discussions, peer reviews, and joint action plans’ elaboration. What is in it for women?

Financial inclusion plays a crucial role in empowering women in the digital economy. By providing access to financial services and resources, women can overcome economic barriers and actively participate in the digital marketplace. Initiatives such as microcredit programs, digital payment platforms, and financial literacy training can help bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion.

In addition to financial inclusion, education, and skills training are vital for women to thrive in the digital economy. Programs that focus on digital literacy, coding, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills can equip women with the necessary tools to succeed in the digital space. It is essential to ensure these programs are accessible to women from diverse backgrounds, including those in rural areas and marginalized communities.

Digital Economy

Partnerships and collaborations between governments, private sector organizations, and civil society are crucial in advancing women’s inclusion in the digital economy. By working together, stakeholders can leverage their expertise, resources, and networks to create comprehensive solutions that address the barriers women face. These partnerships can facilitate the exchange of best practices, foster innovation, and promote policy reforms that promote gender equality and digital inclusion.

Furthermore, the digital space must be safe and secure for women to fully participate. Efforts to enhance trust and security in the digital environment, such as data protection measures, cybersecurity initiatives, and awareness campaigns, are necessary to ensure women’s safety and build their confidence in engaging online.

What I liked about this session was the contribution of the entrepreneurs who deliver concrete services for women and provide smart solutions to bridge the digital gap. That’s what they said:

  1. Shang Gao, Amazon Web Services (AWS): “Through our training and collaboration efforts, we are actively working to bridge the gender and digital skills gap. We have committed to providing free training to 29 million individuals globally by 2025, focusing on empowering women and girls in tech.
  2. Veyrl Adell, Entrepreneur in the tech industry: “I recognized the potential of technology in bringing about positive change and sought to harness it to benefit women entrepreneurs. By providing access to credit through an integrated platform, we empower women in trade and support their economic growth.
  3. Maxima Nsiimenta, Advocate for women’s empowerment in Uganda:The digitization of share farmers and providing them with digital skills has expanded their knowledge and access to agricultural inputs. By building skills and providing resources, we enable women to participate effectively in the agricultural sector and contribute to economic growth.”
Digital Economy

These quotes highlight the commitment and efforts of these individuals in empowering women through various initiatives in the digital economy. Noteworthy was also the contribution of the United Nations Commission for Asia and Pacific. ESCAP’s initiatives focus on strengthening regional collaboration, with a specific emphasis on emerging markets and underserved sections of society, ESCAP aims to develop digital skills across young communities in Asia. Additionally, ESCAP recognizes the need for financial support to drive impactful solutions.

eTrade for all Leadership Roundtable: Unlocking Digital Trade for Inclusive Development

Isabelle Kumar, Former News Anchor at Euronews
Anna Joubin Bret, Secretary, and Director of the International Trade Law Division, UN Office of Legal Affairs at United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)
Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
Masahiko Metoki, Director General at Universal Postal Union (UPU)
Mia Seppo, Assistant Director-General for Jobs and Social Protection at ILO

Koji Hachiyama, Chief Operating Officer at Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA)
Dorothy Tembo, Deputy Executive Director at International Trade Centre (ITC)
Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General at CUTS International
Angela Paolini Ellard, Deputy Director-General at World Trade Organization (WTO)

This eTrade for all leadership roundtable focused on the development impacts of trade in the digital age. It featured an inclusive dialogue with the leaders of eTrade for all partner organizations to connect the dots on what is needed to make digitalization support inclusive and development gains from trade.

Digital Economy

Digitalization holds vast promises and new opportunities in trade and the potential to support resilience in times of disruption. It can boost trade growth by introducing new technologies and better processes and contribute to job creation. Cross-border trade is becoming increasingly “digital”, and this trend will likely continue. Yet, the levels of readiness and growth of countries and regions to trade digitally vary greatly. Digitally deliverable services accounted for 55% of global services exports in 2022, declining from a peak of 63% during the COVID-19 pandemic. For developed economies, this share was 60%; for developing economies, it was 45%; and for the poorest and least digitalized economies, the LDCs, it was just 17%. So, doubling the share of LDCs in world trade – as stipulated in Sustainable Development Goal target 17.11 – will be even more difficult unless the ability of countries to participate in and benefit from digital trade is strengthened.

Digital Economy

The eTrade for All initiative is a collaborative effort that aims to promote inclusive and sustainable development through digital trade. It provides a platform for partners to exchange best practices, identify cooperation opportunities, and avoid duplication of efforts. The initiative recognizes the potential of digital trade to boost economic growth and create opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries.

Here is what the partners reported on the advances of the Initiative:

Paul Donohoe of the Postal Union highlighted the role of postal sector services in making digital trade accessible, particularly for SMEs in remote areas. To fully unlock the potential of digital trade, a robust enabling environment is necessary, including reliable digital infrastructure, clear regulatory frameworks, and policies that encourage innovation and investment.

Koji Hachiyama of ERIA emphasized the importance of trade as part of the solution for inclusive digital transformation. He discusses the role of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) in accelerating discussions and facilitating informed policies in international meetings. ERIA is establishing a center for collaboration between policymakers and businesses to identify barriers hindering progress in the digital sphere and strengthen start-ups in ASEAN.

Rebeca Grynspan of UNCTAD highlighted the potential of digital trade to contribute to inclusive development but acknowledged existing disparities between developed and developing economies.
Partnerships, such as the E-Trade for All initiative, are seen as crucial in addressing these disparities. The initiative has witnessed significant membership growth and is considered a prime example of collaboration in addressing digital trade disparities.

Digital Economy

Mia Seppo of ILO emphasized the need to regulate digital platforms to protect labor rights, fair working conditions, and social protection. The International Labour Organization (ILO) recognizes the importance of international policy dialogue and coordination in regulating digital platforms that operate across multiple jurisdictions. The ILO also advocates for targeted support to MSMEs and promotes inclusive AI policymaking that considers the human aspect of workplace transitions.

Anna Joubin-Bret of UNCITRAL discussed the importance of trust in the digital economy and the emergence of new types of commodities in the digital sphere. Legal frameworks are crucial for thriving digital trade, and Joubin Bret’s organization focuses on developing frameworks for MSMEs, digital identity, trust services, and electronically transferable records.

Pradeep S. Mehta highlighted the importance of inclusive digital trade policies for aiding the Global South, using India’s Digital India Initiative as an example. Cybersecurity is emphasized as a critical aspect of protecting digital infrastructure, and investments in robust telecommunications infrastructure are necessary for a thriving digital economy.

Angela Paolini Ellard of WTO emphasized the positive impact of digital trade on economic growth and development while recognizing the challenge of the digital divide. The digital divide refers to unequal
access to digital technologies and the internet, leaving some individuals and communities at a disadvantage.

Dorothy Tembo of ITC discussed the increased focus on digital trade initiatives due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges faced by SMEs in adapting to digital trade. ITC takes a comprehensive approach to address these challenges by creating a trade-enabling environment, working on policy aspects, and supporting MSMEs. Collaboration, inclusiveness, and customized solutions are seen as critical for achieving sustainable and equitable digital trade.

Fiorina Mugione, a seasoned UN Development Cooperation professional, is on the Prayaana Board, serves as an EU Capacity4Development Ambassador co-founded Ofelia International, and holds a key role on the Accelerate Africa board, driving economic growth.

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