Women in the Commonwealth: Trade and Investment

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 11th March 2020.

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Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:30 pm, 11th March 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered trade and investment opportunities for women in the Commonwealth.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I should refer colleagues to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and let them know that I am the acting co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on trade out of poverty.

As we celebrated International Women’s Day and Commonwealth Day just a few days ago, I felt it was timely to call for this debate on how the UK can promote trade and investment opportunities that empower women across the Commonwealth, especially in anticipation of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in June 2020.

Since the first International Women’s Day in 1909, we have seen great social and economic progress in many parts of the world. Across Commonwealth countries, women increasingly drive economic activity and engage in trade and entrepreneurship. According to some estimates, women lead a third of all small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries. In Kenya, 24% of SMEs are owned by women, while the figure stands at 26% in Rwanda. There is still much work to do, though. The gender gap means that women still face disproportionate barriers to access to trade and markets because of discriminatory attitudes, poor conditions and harassment, as well as unequal access to inputs such as credit and land.

Despite the values and commitments enshrined in the Commonwealth’s charter, which recognises that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are essential components of human development, progress towards more equitable inclusion of women in Commonwealth economies has been too slow. Only one in five exporting companies is led by women. Women-led enterprises are concentrated in less dynamic sectors than male-led ones, and few are involved in import and export. In employment, job segregation means that women work in lower paid jobs.

Promoting gender equality is a moral and economic imperative. Helping to tackle the many challenges that women face in the economic sphere can trigger tremendous positive social and economic change. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study found that closing the gender wage and participation gap could add nearly $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Astonishingly, that is equivalent to the GDPs of Japan, Germany and the UK combined.