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women in developing countriesInternational trade is arguably the most significant economic development of the last century. Its growth has been roughly exponential due to technological advancements and specialization, and exports today are more than 40 times the amount they were in 1913. Although this growth contributes to higher wealth and more stable economic systems for many countries, it simultaneously can exasperate already-existing inequalities, particularly those concerning women. International trade has contributed to the creation of new workforces containing more women. However, the employment opportunities in developing countries are typically low-paying positions with little prospects for skill development. Women in developing countries are limited to such positions due to social and cultural dynamics, policies and other country-specific contexts.

Employment of Women in Developing Countries

Women in developing countries oftent act as a cheap source of labor for firms. In manufacturing, women are mainly employed in jobs involving the production of goods, rather than higher-paying jobs involving management positions. If an economy is predominantly agricultural, women are often subsistence farmers or members of family businesses. In these situations, many women in developing countries do not get paid for their work. In service-based economies, women occupy low-skill positions such as street vendors. However, increasing the pay women receive for these jobs and successfully closing the gender gap could add about $28 trillion to global GDP.

The tendency of women to work in low-skilled jobs results from ingrained social norms designed to limit women’s economic mobility. Societies that expect women to assume the full responsibility of childcare often give them few opportunities to receive education or reduce the burden of their domestic labor. Consequently, these women are less likely to have the same access men do to land, credit and labor markets.

Little Access to Opportunities

Women in developing countries often also experience disproportionate rates of unemployment or remain in low-paying positions because they are unable to learn more about job opportunities in other locations. Robert Jensen, a former professor from the University of Texas at Austin, examined this phenomenon. He concluded that women living in rural areas in India who were contacted by recruitment campaigns providing information about job opportunities in urban areas ultimately participated more in the labor force. As a result, they experienced increased mobility.

Current Trade and Employment Policies

In 2016, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development released a report stating that gender-blind trading policies exacerbate the inequalities women experience in developing countries. These gender-blind trading policies do not create equal opportunities. Instead, they allow men in the workforce to further benefit from existing economic advantages they enjoy.

However, the U.N. proposed two new global development frameworks to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through trade. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on combating gender issues. It links economic, social and environmental factors to address power structures and social dynamics that contribute to gender inequality. The Addis Ababa Agenda on Financing for Development requests equal gender inclusion into the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It also aims to ensure women’s equal rights through access to economic activities that would combat gender-based violence and discrimination.

Together, these development plans are a holistic, firm course of action in the fight against women’s economic inequality. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations recently reported on the progress nations have made in adopting plans, allocating funds and formulating policies. It found higher numbers of trade agreements with gender-related provisions in the last three decades. Although the global economic impact of COVID-19 may disrupt this progress, comprehensive plans and agendas will ensure that the pursuit of gender equality in trade continues.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Unsplash

Modern Business Opportunities in Africa
Over the next 10 years, Africa’s total populace could surpass 1.5 billion. Moreover, only 20% of the continent’s predicted population growth will transpire in rural areas. Therefore, an industrial transformation is occurring. International markets now have multiple modern business opportunities in Africa.

Online Finance Services

The demand for financial consulting is immense. Estimates have determined that 80% of Africa’s population does not have access to banking or financial services. Therefore, the evolution of the FinTech industry is underway. FinTech utilizes modern technology to improve the affordability and accessibility of financial services. Approximately 88% of sub-Saharan African countries now implement FinTech policies. Companies such as M-Pesa and Branch have successfully established their business strategies in these regions.

Branch is a digital financial service provider that capitalizes on the worldwide growth of smartphone usage to deliver financial consultation to those in need. The company operates in Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria. Branch currently serves 3 million customers. Recently, Branch acquired over $150 million in funding to further pursue its initiative. The company hopes that providing small loans will stimulate economic development in low-income areas.

Virtual Healthcare

Providing equal access to affordable healthcare is an objective modern technology can accomplish. In sub-Saharan Africa, only one physician is available for every 5,000 people. In the U.S., there is one physician per 384 citizens. Generating digital platforms to further distribute healthcare in Africa is an under-crowded market. Companies such as Redbank and Lafiya Telehealth App now operate in this sector.

Lafiya Telehealth App incorporates smartphone application technology to provide healthcare to citizens of Nigeria. Lafiya focuses specifically on individuals living in isolated areas, who tend to be poorer. Lafiya’s programs aim to replace in-person medical examinations with voice calls, video calls and instant messaging. With wide and accessible reach, Lafiya is serving an enormous market.

United States Government Initiatives Promoting Commerce with Africa

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a U.S. government initiative that provides African countries with access to thousands of American commodities. In order for countries to participate, they must launch programs to decrease poverty, protect individual rights, institute a criminal justice system and more. Currently, 38 African countries are eligible to engage in trade and investment with the U.S. AGOA has directly created over 100,000 American jobs, connected U.S. businesses with buyers and suppliers in Africa and generated over $1 billion in exports. Trade between the U.S. and African nations has grown by 300% since the Act came into effect. The U.S. government has extended this program to 2025.

The success of AGOA has prompted the creation of Prosper Africa. Prosper Africa is a U.S. policy with a design to further increase opportunities for trade between the United States and Africa. Prosper Africa increases Africa’s availability to U.S. digital and in-person services, supports commerce by advancing profit-making contracts and enhancing cooperation with African institutions to create healthy business environments. The completion of these objectives will produce profits for employees, businesses and stakeholders among both regions.

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development recognized Africa as one of the most profitable regions in the world. The continent’s growing urban population, increase in consumer spending and largely untapped markets provide ample scenarios for international corporations. Modern business opportunities in Africa will continue to grow with the implementation of U.S. government initiatives to improve local economies, promote stable growth and persuade future business investments. These modern business opportunities in Africa will expand as wealthy nations share resources and generate economic growth in regions across the continent.

John Brinkman
Photo: pxfuel