Gender disparities in trade networks
Women face many obstacles limiting their participation in trade: education-related challenges, poorer access to information and markets, male-dominated distribution networks, time and mobility constraints, greater difficulties in complying with regulatory and procedural requirements, etc. An analysis of the rice sector in Benin, Niger and Nigeria highlights existing gender disparities in trade networks. As in many other value chains, women are less well-connected to the most central actors compared to men and are less likely to hold strategic positions (intermediaries and retailers). They therefore trade mainly with men. The gender gap is particularly striking among actors with strong local roots and extensive business connections: only one-fifth of actors with this level of social capital are women. Social norms and stereotypes undermine women’s capacity to develop stronger business relationships. They define the activities that women participate in at the village level. Formal and customary laws, public policies and access to financial institutions negatively impact women’s capacity to access agricultural property and sufficient financial resources to develop commercial activities. In addition, women are rarely represented in the political sphere, on land commissions, tribunals or in traditional leadership roles. This represents a barrier to the implementation of public policies aimed at promoting women producers and traders. One way of improving opportunities for women, is to help them build and grow their networks through training and online platforms. Another way is to conduct market assessments with a gender lens; collecting and analysing gender-disaggregated data is key to informing policies that promote women’s empowerment. It is also necessary to involve men and raise awareness of current barriers and discriminatory practices in order to bring about change. Adopting policy approaches that better integrate and co-ordinate initiatives undertaken by governments, international and non-governmental organisations to empower women and strengthen their social capital can also help contribute to more gender equal trade networks.