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Helping Women Crack the “Export Code”

As the world commemorates this year's International Women's Day, there can be no doubt that significant progress has been made worldwide toward achieving gender parity. But until the barriers blocking women's access to global trade are removed, that goal will remain out of reach.

NEW YORK – When I first met the Accra-based fashion designer Chiedza Makonnen in 2014, her sales beyond Ghana were minimal. Yet today, Makonnen’s brand, Afrodesiac Worldwide, is featured on the red carpets of Hollywood and the stages of the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Because Makonnen cracked the “export code,” her company has scaled up production, tripled its staff, and vastly expanded its media profile. 

Cracking the export code means overcoming the notion that businesses owned and managed by women cannot be global, because meeting the standards required for cross-border trade is too challenging and expensive. It is widely assumed (albeit not stated outright) that women-owned businesses are riskier and therefore less attractive to investors. But just as women 50 years ago burned their bras to destroy a symbol of oppression, women today must remove the barriers preventing them from trading freely in the global economy.

To be sure, on this International Women’s Day, women in many countries are better off and enjoy more opportunities than their mothers and grandmothers did, owing to significant improvements in access to education and health care. But major gaps remain, and, given the slow and uneven pace of progress, there is no room for complacency.