International trade is equivalent to over 71 per cent of Canadas Gross
Domestic Product. It is the driving force behind one in every five Canadian
jobs, and represents the foundation of our social programs and quality
of life. Clearly, our economy and society depend heavily on our businesses
and investors reaching out to the markets of the world. Global commerce
presents unlimited opportunities for entrepreneurs, workers and consumers
around the world to prosper, thrive and raise their living standards. As
trade barriers continue to fall, and the nations of the world embrace an
increasingly liberalized global economy, these opportunities will grow
apace for large and small economies alike. This article looks at how Canadian
women are increasingly taking advantage of foreign business opportunities.
Over the last 20 years, Canada has seen a 200 per cent increase in the
number of women-owned firms. With over 800,000 women-owned businesses in
Canada, contributing $18 billion to the Canadian economy each year, women
are playing a growing role in Canadas economy, boosting our performance
at home and in the markets of the world.
Small businesses are a case in point. As a former small business owner,
I know that these businesses are nothing short of an economic engine, leading
the country in job creation, and playing an essential role in Canadas
domestic and international economic performance. And women are starting
up these businesses at twice the rate of men, particularly in the services
The fact is, these businesses stand a greater chance of succeeding if they
participate in the export market, rather than in the domestic market alone.
Thankfully, Canadian businesswomen have wholeheartedly accepted this challenge,
and are exporting all over the world: mostly to the United States, but
also to Asia, Europe and beyond.
In most cases, women entrepreneurs face many of the same challenges that
men face. For instance, one study1 shows that women exporters found that
international marketing posed the greatest obstacle. The cost of developing
new markets, obtaining the right information and finding local partners
and distribution channels were all cited as key challenges. But are women
also facing unique, gender-based challenges in their pursuit of trade opportunities?
It seems that when it comes to exporting, gender does indeed matter.
As a member of both the Standing Committee on International Trade and the
Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I hear about the challenges
often. Cultural differences such as those faced by businesswomen in the
Middle East, South Africa, India and South America and not being taken
seriously as business owners are two such challenges. A study2 found that
75 per cent of female business owners believe that their gender has an
influence on their ability to export. Among this percentage, many find
that their gender is a disadvantage, citing lack of respect from male business
owners, and a perceived bias against women on the part of financial institutions
as key challenges.
A 2005 report3 found that some women-owned firms are not performing as
well as male-owned firms, finding possible explanations in the lack of
mentors and role models, smaller professional networks, and even a lack
of spousal or peer support.
The challenges become even more acute for women in developing countries.
At a Canadian-sponsored roundtable discussion on Women Entrepreneurs and
International Development held on the margins of the World Trade Organizations
6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong last December, delegates heard
about the challenges faced by women in developing countries, like accessing
credit, capital and information. These challenges are exacerbated by poor
education and training, and a lack of knowledge of international trade
As an open, trading nation, and an active supporter of womens rights around
the world, Canada has been at the forefront of the movement to address
gender imbalances in international trade, in developed and developing countries
Our commitment is part of our broader international dedication to eliminating
violence against women, ensuring full and equal participation of women
in decision-making, and working with our international partners to strengthen
womens rights and gender equality.
A number of federal organizations including Foreign Affairs and International
Trade Canada (DFAIT), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),
Status of Women Canada (SWC) and Industry Canada (IC) actively participate
in national, regional and international initiatives aimed at building a
greater understanding of the relationship between gender and trade, and
developing programs that break down barriers faced by female entrepreneurs.
In fact, Canada played a key role in the first-ever session on gender equality
and trade at the 2003 WTO Public Symposium a session that drew attention
to the significant contribution women make to the global economy, and the
special challenges they face.
It was also a catalyst for the DFAIT-organized Roundtable on Gender Equality
and Trade held during the WTOs 5th Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico
in September 2003, and the Roundtable on Women Entrepreneurs and International
Development at last years WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong. Reports
from these sessions are available on the departments website: www.international.gc.ca
Thanks to the efforts of Canadian women like Adair Heuchan, who received
the 2004 Woman of the Year Award from the Organization of Women in International
Trade (OWIT) while working as Counsellor for Trade and Development at the
Permanent Mission of Canada to the WTO and the UN, Canada is becoming widely
recognized as a champion of gender equality in international trade policy
at the WTO. The 2006 OWIT Award will be presented to another Canadian,
entrepreneur Andrina Lever, President of Toronto-based Lever Enterprises,
who has long been an advocate of womens entrepreneurship in groups like
the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. As these awards prove,
women from Canadas public and private sectors are keeping this issue on
the table around the world.
DFAIT is also a proud champion of women exporters at the APEC forum. In
fact, Canada led an APEC project called Supporting Potential Women Exporters,
which led to a New Zealand-developed survey of APEC members practices
to promote women exporters. This September, Vietnam will host a workshop
to propose next steps in this area. Building on the work thats been done
to date, Canada is now working on a multi-year private sector development
plan, which will help women exporters deal with the many trade-related
challenges they face.
DFAIT-sponsored trade missions provide an important vehicle for businesswomen
to reach out to foreign markets. These missions often include events organized
by local womens business groups and associations to let our trading partners
know what Canadian women can offer. Here in Canada, DFAIT and IC co-chair
the interdepartmental Working Group on Women Entrepreneurs, dedicated to
the subject of women and international trade.
The departments flagship publication for Canadian businesses, CanadExport,
includes an annual supplement on women entrepreneurs in international trade,
providing a showcase for women exporters and how they are using federal
services to grow their businesses. DFAITs Businesswomen in Trade website
outlines the full slate of government programs available for businesswomen,
and provides a unique forum for them to network, learn about financing
and insurance services, and identify foreign business opportunities.
The department is one of many proud federal supporters of the JoAnna Townsend
Award, named after a former DFAIT and Export Development Corporation employee
who was a champion of women exporters, and who died after a courageous
battle with cancer.
CIDA is committed to integrating gender equality across all of its trade
and capacity-building related policies and programs the Agencys ACCESS!
for African Businesswomen in International Trade program, which helps African
women entrepreneurs break into the export market, is an excellent example.
Indeed, Canadas new government recognizes the important role played by
women in trade, and in sustaining our national prosperity, quality of life
and competitive position in the world. We are committed to building a better
understanding of the opportunities and challenges of trade liberalization,
and supporting research and analysis of specific areas of trade policy
and their impacts on women. We take very seriously the UNs Millennium
Development Goals, including the third goal, which seeks to promote gender
equality and empower women. Clearly, this goal must include trade.
Increasingly, women are bringing their energy, creativity and entrepreneurial
spirit to bear throughout Canadas business world. From small and medium-sized
businesses to large, multinational firms, Canadian businesswomen and
indeed, businesswomen from around the world deserve the same access to
financing, benefits, and market assistance and access that their male counterparts
enjoy. They deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect their role
in the world commands.
This Government looks forward to working with Canadian women to help them
capture these opportunities, and continue making such an important contribution
to the fabric of Canadian life.
1. Beyond Borders: Canadian Businesswomen in International Trade, pg. 15,
summary report prepared by Ruth Rayman, (Rayman & Associates), based on
a complete report by the Trade Research Coalition, Dr. Barbara Orser (Equinox
Management Consultants Ltd.), Dr. Eileen Fischer (York University), Dr.
Rebecca Reuber (University of Toronto), Ms. Sue Hooper (The Asia-Pacific
Foundation of Canada) and Dr. Allan Riding (Carleton University), 1999.
2. Exporting as a Means of Growth for Women-owned Firms by Dr. Barbara
Orser, Dr. Allan Riding and JoAnna Townsend in The Journal of Small Business
and Entrepreneurship, vol. 17, no. 4, Summer 2004.
3. Sustaining the Momentum, synopsis report of research and recommendations
stemming from Sustaining the Momentum: An Economic Forum on Women Entrepreneurs,
Industry Canada and Carleton Universitys Sprott School of Business, 2005.