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.
The policy brief (Women and Trade: Towards an Enabling Ecosystem in India) brought out by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) 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.
The policy brief notes that the current foreign trade policy and the foreign trade policy statement are gender neutral. 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 just as MSMEs have been explicitly acknowledged to have strategic significance, especially with regard to manufacturing and employment generation, and are accordingly identified for focussed interventions to boost exports.
To steer coordinated support to women entrepreneurship the policy brief recommends the setting up of an apex National Council for Women’s Entrepreneurship under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister. Further, collection of gender disaggregated data and statistics on trade participation and performance as well as regular gender stakeholder consultations are vital for informed policy making and impact assessment. These should be an integral part of the institutional set-up across the gamut of relevant ministries, allied regulatory agencies, export promotion councils, specific product promoting boards etc.
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. Traditionally India has been wary of linking non-trade/progressive issues such as human rights, labour standards, gender, and environment with trade, both bilaterally and multilaterally, by and large regarding them as ‘veiled protectionism’. However, with the global discourse veering towards inclusiveness in trade and sustainability, more so in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic, India should embrace a more flexible and pragmatic approach and not lag behind the curve.
Also, in case you have specific query around the topic, we would like to connect you to Dr. Nisha Taneja, the subject matter expert to share her views.