Trade promotion of female-owned and/or managed small and medium enterprises


What does the existing research say about the barriers to and better practice for female-led/managed/owned small and medium enterprises accessing trade promotion institutions?


Evidence shows that despite barriers to women’s engagement in export trade, there are multiple approaches and entry points yielding successful results and impacts in promoting female-owned and/or managed small and medium enterprise integration in export markets.

Key findings from the literature include:

  • Barriers for women: there is significant consensus in the literature reviewed for this study regarding key barriers that limit women-owned and/or managed businesses to enter, engage in and develop within global markets. These obstacles broadly revolve around issues concerning:
    • Gender discriminating sociocultural norms and legal barriers embedded in prevailing legislation and reflected in economic regulations (Gonzalez, 2015, 2016; ITC, 2015a; Hallward-Driemeier, 2013; ITC, 2015a; Vossenberg, 2013; Kaushal et al. 2014; Jones, 2011).
    • Women entrepreneurs’ inadequate access to: education; assets (e.g. land); sources of finance; information (e.g. trade regulations and procedures); skills and knowledge; market information; market linkages; market-based networks and associations; improved technologies to enter global markets; and participation in policy dialogue and legal decision-making fora.
    • Gender divisions of labour creating time pressure on women, which is a fundamental barrier to engagement in global trade activities (ITC, 2015a).
  • Strategies in support of trade and investment support institutions (TISI), civil society organisations and trade networks: there is also broad consensus in the literature regarding effective approaches to strengthen TISIs and trade networks to enhance participation of women entrepreneurs’ businesses in global trade. These can be organised around thematic areas, including the provision of:
    • Capacity development; increasing access to finance; simplifying and mainstreaming trade regulations and procedures; promotion of alliances and networks (national and global levels); and advocacy and engagement in policy dialogue.
    • Complementary support measures implemented through a multidimensional and coordinated approach are recommended to achieve greatest impact in addressing barriers facing women entrepreneurs to engage in export trade (ITC, 2015a).
    • Examples of strategic entry points and interventions for TISIs’ promotion of women-owned and/or managed small and medium scale business to enter the export trade sector include: business training; tailored coaching support; support to ensure compliance with market procedures; and facilitation of trade partnerships (ITC, 2015a; ITC Forum Magazine, 2003; Jones et al., 2011).
    • Capacity development – direct capacity strengthening through training and workshops, ongoing mentoring and coaching follow ups, and learning by exporting (Valdivia, 2011; Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women; Stevenson and St Onge, 2006; Atkin et al., 2015).
    • Sharing guidance and key recommendations for enhancing access to finance, including developing responsive and flexible measures to access loans by women-owned enterprises, as well as facilitating their registration, and encouraging higher risk-taking ventures (IFC, 2014, 2013).
    • Sharing information on compliance with complex regulations and certifications. TISIs have supported women’s businesses in completing these processes, largely through training and information dissemination, and by fostering linkages and partnerships with international buyers (Brenton et al., 2013; Ityavyar, 2013; ITC 2015b; Gamberino and Reis, 2011).
    • Support to exchange and networks. This is crucial because women are less likely to be members of business networks or global marketing associations than men, despite multiple benefits that networks provide, e.g. collective processes for production, commercialisation, market information/linkages with traders, a basis for engaging in advocacy and policy dialogue. Incorporation of alternative modern technologies are yielding positive results (Jones, 2011; ITC, 2015a, IFC, 2011; Brenton et al., 2013; Hallward-Driemeier, 2013; World Bank,, FAO, IFAD, 2009; ITC, 2015a; Vossenberg, 2013; Cherie Balire Foundation for Women, 2015).
    • Support to advocacy and policy dialogue – this is a critical aspect of promoting women’s engagement in global trade. Promising initiatives include supporting advocacy platforms of women traders to promote an enabling environment for business and access to better services; developing training programmes for women entrepreneurs to enhance their participation in world trade dialogue; supporting women/women’s groups’ participation in trade consultations/negotiations (IANGWE, 2011).

Suggested citation

Pozarny, P. (2016). Trade promotion of female-owned and/or managed small and medium enterprises (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1365). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.