Inspired and enabled by the Women and Trade program by the International Trade Center (ITC), the Women Entrepreneur Development Program of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) seeks to engage more women participation in agriculture and manufacturing based exporter sectors.
Although Sri Lanka has achieved gender parity in access to education, women’s economic participation is well below potential. Female participation in the labour force was at 40% in 2018, significantly lower than that for men (73%). Women’s ownership of formal small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is low in Sri Lanka, and most women struggle to transition away from informal microscale businesses.
Moreover, unemployment rates are also significantly higher for women. There is a large gender gap in the share of women who are unpaid family workers, who account for 20.4% of women compared to 3% of men. Although SMEs contribute about 45% of Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product (GDP) and provide about half of the country’s jobs, only 25% of entrepreneurs are women in the SME sector.
However, women play a major role in the global and local economy. They invest more in their families than men do, in areas such as education, health and nutrition, creating a secure foundation for the future of their families and communities. Therefore, empowering women economically, especially through their involvement in trade, creates multiple opportunities for livelihood and economic development.
Women’s entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka has traditionally faced four interconnected challenges and bottlenecks including;
In order to address the obvious disparity be between male and female SME operators and owners, EDB’s Women Entrepreneurs Development Program includes a multifold approach including;
The main objective of our program is to link women and their associated businesses to commercially viable opportunities and value chains across the world, enabling economic and community development.
Enabling women-led enterprises across the country can lead to the generation of more jobs island-wide, and more equitable distribution of income. According to the Empowerment of Women project of the Indian Ocean RIm Association (IORA) women-led Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in Sri Lanka can largely benefit from having access to quality certifications, digital marketing tools and computer-based knowledge, marketing opportunities, and intellectual property systems.
SheTrade was launched in Sri Lanka in 2016 by EDB Sri Lanka in partnership with several institutions that support trade and investment including the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE), Women ‘s Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprise in Tourism.
As the verifying organisation in Sri Lanka for SheTrades, we have been conducting communication campaigns focussing on various aspects of the program as well as providing Sri Lankan women entrepreneurs with best business, industry, and marketing practices and encouraging women-led MSMEs to register with EDB Sri Lanka and SheTrades program for ongoing assistance.