I recently attended the 2017 APEC Women and the Economy Forum (WEF) which was held in Hue, Vietnam. The WEF, and its sub-component the Public-Private Dialogue on Women and the Economy, has as its main goal to enhance women’s economic inclusion and empowerment in a changing world. The four-day forum attracted about 700 delegates from 19 of the 21 APEC economies. They included ministers, leaders of government agencies and international organisations, CEOs of big business from APEC and non-APEC regions, along with gender and entrepreneurship experts and scholars.
Under the 2017 APEC theme 'Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future', the WEF focused on promoting gender equality for sustainable, innovative and inclusive economic growth, enhancing the competitiveness and innovation of women-owned micro and small and medium size enterprises (MSME), and narrowing gender gaps in human resource development.
Whereas once upon a time women and the economy’ may have been a side issue for APEC Economic Leaders, the approximately 600 million women in the labour force (with over 60 per cent of women engaged in the formal sector) make a considerable contribution to export and GDP in the 21 APEC economies, as a result of which APEC Leaders are now underscoring the importance of inclusive growth. Indeed, including more women entrepreneurs (and more women exporters) has a potentially significant multiplier effect for the region.
Anchored in a strategy of sustainable regional development, APEC's vision for inclusive growth emphasizes the creation of, and equal access to opportunities for all, enabling all to participate, contribute to, and share in the benefits of economic growth.
This is easier said than done. Substantial disparities still exist in employment and income opportunities between women and men. Women in both developing and developed APEC economies (including Australia, Canada and the U.S.) still experience disadvantages such as limited access to assets, markets, networks, ICT, financial and productive resources, preventing their full participation in business, entrepreneurship and global value chains. Thus there is a need to strengthen the enabling environment for women entrepreneurs through better access to education, technology and opportunities. This in turn calls for the strengthening of public-private cooperation to improve policies and programs that support and facilitate the economic inclusion of all.
Most economies, including Australia, do not collect separate data on male and female entrepreneurs. This means we are not in a position to understand the gaps in the enabling environment or design relevant policies and programs that enhance inclusive regional development. Cooperation hence needs to include investment in research and the collection of sex-disaggregated data for evidence-based policy and program making.
Women are an important part of the changing (export) world. They are also very much part of the digital economy revolution. It pays to boost their potential.