Speech Steven Collet, Ambassador for Business and Development to the First Advisory Board Meeting of the eTrade for Women Initiative

Opening Remarks Steven Collet, Ambassador for Business and Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to the First Advisory Board Meeting of the eTrade for Women Initiative, 20 January 2022

Women empowerment is close to my heart. It is essential for the future of our planet and for inclusive recovery after COVID-19. It is also one of the cross cutting themes in the trade and development policy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We are proud supporter of the eTrade for Women initiative and I am grateful to be able to participate in this first Advisory Board meeting and to meet both Secretary-General Grynspan and a number of the Advocates again.

As a long-term partner of UNCTAD, we work side by side on the digital economy and e-commerce agenda and, like you, acknowledging the tremendous potential that the digital economy can offer for global sustainable development and for women. 

We just welcomed a few weeks ago our new minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Liesje Schreinemacher, a young powerwoman like yourselves, who I look forward to support. 

[Women in digital business]

A critical challenge for women to thrive in business is the issue of ACCESS: access to finance, access to education, access to lands, access to markets, access to the policy table etc. When digitalization became a megatrend – boosted by the pandemic - it triggered the issue of ACCESS to digitalization, especially for women. 

It is a well-known fact that women in technology are underrepresented. Only under a quarter of people working in the AI/digital sector are women. Female entrepreneurs, also in NL,– on top of the common challenges of international entrepreneurship - face significant gender biases and often suffer from a lack of representation. Women are poorly funded, lack role models and mentors; successful female entrepreneurs are out there, yet only a few are visible.

Digital trade is rapidly growing and women are not benefitting. The untapped potential of female entrepreneurs worldwide is immense. Closing the gender gap on online platforms means being able to put billions of dollars into the wallets of women entrepreneurs and exponentially grow global e-commerce markets. For example, according to IFC reports (2021): 

  • women can add over $14.5 billion to e-commerce market in Africa between 2025-2030. 
  • $280 billion to the Southeast Asian e-commerce market between 2025-2030, 
  • an opportunity to put nearly $300 billion in the hands of women entrepreneurs.
  • As such, facilitating women’s access to digitalization and engagement in digital trade is a strong business case in itself.

[looking forward]

The pandemic shows us the need to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies. Facilitating the digital economy and in particular the role of women therein provides an excellent opportunity to recover better. 

I would like to highlight three key points for the way forward:

  1. Responsible digitalization. Our challenge is, for you as business women and us as governments, to ensure a responsible e-commerce, ensuring cybersecurity, human rights and privacy, like the protection of personal data
  2. Joint international action and investing in a fair level playing field. WTO negotiations on trade rules for e-commerce may provide opportunities to allow increased support and involvement among developing countries as well as ensuring equal benefits for men and women. But also the new Africa Free Trade Area creates opportunities for inclusive digital trade.
  3. Partnering with private sector is key in scaling up efforts towards innovative digital solutions and job creation. Helping SMEs getting online, for instance using e-commerce, to increase their robustness and competitiveness. Public-private partnerships for digital cooperation.

The eTrade for Women is a great initiative of women leaders in e-commerce providing hands-on opportunities to empower women and aims to inspire, support, connect and give a voice – national and international - to women digital entrepreneurs in developing countries. We need to do more and scale-up further.

  • We need to make sure that network of now around 200 women entrepreneurs are made heard and can feed high-level political decision-making processes.  I call upon the Advocates when bringing issues to the national policy table to work together with our Netherlands embassies and ambassadors on the ground. 
  • We stand ready to work together with UNCTAD to broaden the partner and donor base for eTrade for Women.  

The Netherlands will continue to work together with public and private partners to scale up and further integrate the digital dimension in our development activities. With exchanges like today and by learning what works and what not, we can together contribute to resilient digital economies that foster sustainable and inclusive economic development and employment opportunities, benefitting men and women. Thank you.