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PodcastJanuary 30, 2023

Invisible Women | Trade Tips Podcast

FEATURING: Maryse Mbonyumutwa, Asantii, pan-African clothing brand based in Rwanda/Diana Yates, cocoa and chocolate exporter, Cathliro Trading, the Solomon Islands/Heidi Stensland, Senior Private Sector Development Specialist, World Bank Group.

Use the following clickable timestamps to listen to the podcast.

[00:04] Welcome and introduction

[01:24] Meet Asantii: A pan-African clothing brand based in Rwanda

[03:37] Role of women in the garment trade

[04:19] Women: Heart of the business

[05:17] Trade challenges for women

[06:47] Perspective from a cocoa exporter in the Solomon Islands

[08:18] Hear from the World Bank’s lead on trade facilitation and gender in Washington

[08:32] Why does it matter that women participate in trade?

[09:51] What kinds of policy issues impact women?

[11:14] How the Great Lakes region in Africa has helped facilitate inclusion of women in trade

[13:20] Closing and thanks for listening!

In this episode of the World Bank Group's Trade Tips podcast, we explore why women are so invisible when it comes to trade, and why gender-inclusive policies and practices matter.

We hear from traders in Rwanda and the Solomon Islands about their challenges, and from the World Bank Group's Heidi Stensland, on possible solutions.

Listen now! Subscribe for free on your favorite platform. 


Featured Voices

Trade, tips, women, gender, inclusive, development, Rwanda, Asantii, Africa, Pacific, Solomon Islands, World Bank


[00:04] Sarah Treanor: Hello and welcome to Trade Tips from the World Bank Group. I'm Sarah Treanor. This is the podcast where we tackle some of the big questions in the world of trade and explore the solutions. In this episode, just why are women so invisible when it comes to trade? And why does it matter that policies and practices are designed to be gender inclusive?

Heidi Stensland: Trade has been and will continue to be a very critical driver of poverty reduction. But it's usually really hard to win a game if you're playing with half the players or far less players compared to the other team.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: Particularly for a Rwandan woman in this industry, what policies can we put in place to make sure that this new industry is going to be a win-win?

Sarah Treanor: We will be hearing from Rwanda, from the Solomon Islands, and from the World Bank in Washington, DC. All that and more coming up on the podcast.

Montage: Trade tips, trade tips, trade tips.

[01:24] Sarah Treanor: The sounds you are hearing are from a trilingual nursery in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The nursery is attached to a clothing manufacturer and for the women who work there in various jobs, and it is mainly women, it's free for their children to attend. Let's hear more.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: Okay, so hello. My name is Maryse Mbonyumutwa. I am Rwandan born, but I do have dual nationality. I'm Belgian as well. I'm currently based in Kigali. I've been involved in a new project since 2-0-1-8 in Rwanda. So I've been in this business for the last 23 years, working mainly with factories in China and Southeast Asia for major retailers in Europe. So that's a little bit about me. Just also launched a new project, which is a brand called Asantii - a new pan-African brand - that we hope will be a catalyst for the fashion garment and textile industry.

Sarah Treanor: I asked why she chose the name Asantii, similar to the Swahili word for thank you.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: As a collective of designers coming from 12 different countries in Africa, I thought that this is the best way we could give a subtle thank you to a continent.

Sarah Treanor: So why did you start an Africa based manufacturer and brand? Why was that aspect important to you?

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: When you are in the garment manufacturing industry and you've been to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, you really do realize the job creation potential of this industry, especially for young women and for the youth. Being in an industry that can generate so many jobs and comparing with the unemployment crisis we have on the continent. In 23 years of industry, I've never seen an African brand that was global selling elsewhere as well. For a continent of 1.2 billion people not having a global brand, that was a pity.

[03:37] Sarah Treanor: Explain to me a little bit about how you see the role of women in this kind of industry and the role women play more generally in the garment trade.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: In our industry, the part of women is huge. On our sites and on our foresights in Rwanda where we now have close to 5,000 workers, over 80% of them are women. The only criteria to work to start on in our factory, you need to be random and over 18. And unfortunately, I can't remember who rightfully said that the poorest man on earth is a woman. So you tend to have a lot of women in our industry.

[04:19] Sarah Treanor: So how have you designed this manufacturing and fashion business with all of its various logistical issues and challenges to put women at its heart?

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: So first of all, we do have a free lunch for all the workers. Then we have set up a nursery and we also introduced free sanitary pads for women. To your question about including women in this type of work and environment, it's key.

Sarah Treanor: We know from countries, like Bangladesh, that the garment industry can be transformational in terms of jobs. Tell me how you see this in an Africa context.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: For a Rwandan worker, particularly a Rwandan woman in this industry, what policies can we put in place to make sure that in the end this new industry we're bringing in this country is going to be a win-win and that the benefit will be equally spread?

[05:17] Sarah Treanor: So what kinds of challenges in terms of trade have you seen so far?

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: 80% of our materials for Asantii are sourced on the continent. The access to raw materials has also been a problem and very costly. Like for Asantii, we are using cotton from Madagascar, from Egypt, and from Morocco. We have identified quite a lot of interesting traditional African textile, but which unfortunately are not up to international standards. Logistics are still a challenge. From Madagascar to Kigali is probably the weirdest route they've ever had. It will take us up to two weeks, three weeks, sometimes even by air freight, which is a lot. And another cost actually that we have experienced with Asantii - which is a pity because we want to promote intra Africa trade - is still all the tariffs. So today, if we were to maintain the same margin, Asantii will be much cheaper in Paris and London than it will be in Lagos, Abuja, and even Johannesburg, because of the import duties and the logistic costs.

Sarah Treanor: That's incredible.

Maryse Mbonyumutwa: Absolutely, this is the case. So we have a lot of hopes obviously on the African continental free trade agreement. Yeah, we do put all our hopes into this agreement.

[06:47] Sarah Treanor: What Maryse and Asantii are setting up in Rwanda, a Pan-African clothing brand with women at its heart, is however unusual. I wanted to hear more about some of the issues small scale female traders can face. So I started messaging Diana Yates. She's a cocoa exporter and processor amongst other things. And her company, Cathliro Trading, sources its cocoa from hard-to-reach parts of the Solomon Islands where she's based.

Diana Yates: Hello, Sarah. Good morning. This is Diana. There are instances that you are being a female, you're not being notified if there are upcoming events. I do cocoa, I do chocolate, and there are certain events that happen around the Solomons, but not sure if it's because I'm a female. My main aim is to create job opportunities for those that are living in the rural areas. Those young people who drop out from schools. There is so much resources in the Solomon Islands and we need to understand how we can really convert or value add those resources and find the market. There are many of us who have product export ready products, but we were not invited at all or we were not being informed. If we sit back and we do not explore, we will be at the disadvantage.

[08:18] Sarah Treanor: So what's going on? I wanted to hear more.

Heidi Stensland: Yes, so hi, my name is Heidi Stensland Warren and I'm a senior private sector specialist at the World Bank Group where I lead the World Bank's efforts on trade facilitation and gender.

[08:32] Sarah Treanor: Heidi, why does it matter that we have women participating in trade?

Heidi Stensland: Our research at the World Bank has shown that trade can substantially improve economic outcomes for women by increasing employment and wages, creating better jobs and lowering costs. And countries which are more open to trade and investments in fact have higher levels of gender equality. And by creating a more gender-friendly trade environment and attracting more women to participate in international trade, we can improve economic outcomes for women. But at the same time though, we see that there are fewer women-owned firms that import or export goods compared to men in most countries, even if they make up half the population. And compared to men, women traders often face policy and legal obstacles and gender-biased, sociocultural norms, higher tariffs and non-tariff barriers and lack of access to technology, finance, and education. And some countries do actually not allow women to fully participate in the economy. And these countries are less competitive internationally particularly those countries with export industries that globally have high women employment rates. Trade has been and will continue to be a very critical driver of poverty reduction, but it's usually really hard to win a game if you're playing with half the players or far less players compared to the other teams.

[09:51] Sarah Treanor: And what kinds of policy issues are we talking about here?

Heidi Stensland: No country overtly imposes tariffs according to gender, but implicit biases can amount to so-called 'pink tariffs' that put women at an economic disadvantage. And what this means is that tariffs of goods that women typically trade or consume, such as agriculture goods, textiles, or other manufactured goods, usually have a higher tariff than other goods. We at the World Bank have conducted a survey of over 8,500 traders and custom clearing service providers in five Pacific Island countries, Brazil, the Philippines, and South Africa, to confirm if their gender-specific gaps related to cross-border processes and procedures. And while the findings of this work depend on the country context, we did see that women generally face more challenges than men with regards to trade facilitation. For example, women traders often find it harder to find and understand official information related to trading goods across borders. Fewer women are represented in trade associations, which are important entities to obtain critical information on trade and help traders provide feedback to government regulators. Similarly, we found that fewer women are regularly consulted by the government on matters related to border processes. And if women don't have a say, then their needs will not necessarily be taken into consideration.

[11:14] Sarah Treanor: When we've spoken before, you talked about some work that the World Bank had done in the Great Lakes region in Africa where really practical steps have helped facilitate inclusion of women in trade at borders. Can you explain?

Heidi Stensland: This is a region that has a number of very busy border crossings, some where there were 50,000 traders crossing the borders every day, and most of them are trading in very small scale. And about 80% of the small scale traders are women. Now, the World Bank has been working with governments and regional institutions for a number of years in the regions to support small scale traders. For instance, we've helped introduce simplified trade regimes, which covers customs duty exemptions and simplified clearance procedures for low value transactions, typically conducted by small scale traders. And this makes it much easier to trade across borders for these small scale women traders. And the World Bank has also been funding improvements in border infrastructure to cater for the needs of small scale traders. So for instance pedestrian lanes providing lighting and fencing at the borders. And then we've helped introduce a worker's code of conduct to prevent and mitigate risks of gender-based violence at the borders too.

And the improved relations between traders and border officials coupled with greater accountability and less impunity of officials, have helped reduce harassments from 78% to 45% at one of the borders in the region. So this is really significant. But I'll say that one of the quick wins under one of the projects was the introduction of solar powered lighting at the borders between DRC and Rwanda. And this has not only approved the safety and security of traders and officials, but has also led to an extension of border opening hours. And this is of particular importance to small scale women traders because it allows them to better organize their trading activities around their own family commitments. And for example, at the Goma border crossing in the region, the trade flow is now around 50,000 traders daily, which is doubled that of when the World Bank Project was prepared there.

[13:20] Sarah Treanor: Heidi, Diana, and Maryse, thank you so much for these fascinating insights. It's clearly a huge and complex issue. We hope you've enjoyed this episode of Trade Tips from the World Bank Group. I'm Sarah Treanor. Do check out our other episodes where we tackle subjects from climate change, and how to make trade greener to technology, and what we can learn about trade agreements from Caribbean rum cake. See you soon.


Presenter and Producer: Sarah Treanor

Executive Producer: Marisa Zawacki

Cover art photography: Asantii

Art direction: Cedric Mizero

Photographer: Chris Schwagga



This podcast was created by the World Bank Group with funding from the Trade Facilitation Support Program (TFSP). The TFSP is funded by nine donor partners: Australia, Canada, the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This initiative provides assistance to countries seeking to align their trade practices with the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA).




This Trade Tips podcast tackles the big issues in the world of trade and explores solutions. In this new podcast from the World Bank Group, we take you on a journey around the globe – from Vanuatu to Ghana, Jamaica to Nepal, London to Washington, DC. Through conversations with traders who are being affected by key issues like climate change, digitization, gender – and our experts offering cutting-edge solutions – we highlight why trade matters and how it can be made more efficient. Don't miss an episode! Listen and subscribe for free on your favorite platform. Tell us what you think of our podcast here.



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