Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment through Trade in Southeast Asia
17 March 2023
In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Southeast Asia Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence held a dialogue on 16 March at Victoria University of Wellington’s Pipitea campus with two trade experts, Professor Anna Strutt from the University of Waikato and Anna Guenther, Women in Export Lead at the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. The session titled “Supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment through Trade in Southeast Asia” was moderated by trade policy consultant Stephanie Honey, and attracted nearly 50 attendees. Melissa Gollan, Founder and CEO of RIPA Global, who was originally scheduled to sit on the panel, could not attend in person due to a last-minute business opportunity overseas.
In her opening, moderator Stephanie Honey said statistics show that women may be top in many measures for gender equality but still lag behind in trade. While challenges remain for women, the export sector has shown huge promise and women can make use of opportunities in Southeast Asia.
With her extensive experience in capacity building in Southeast Asia, Professor Anna Strutt shared her knowledge of the diversity of Southeast Asia’s demography and economic landscape and what it means for exporters. She highlighted that various countries in the region are at different stages of economic development, which mean different needs in these markets.
“When we export, do we use their production base? There has to be appropriate products for their markets”, she said, adding that the challenges for women can be both explicit and implicit, such as having to deal with complex regulations across different countries with a smaller network than men.
Anna Guenther, whose role in NZTE is focused on supporting more women to export, said that despite women studying commerce at the same rate as men, they are underrepresented in export companies which are generally more profitable. She finds ASEAN markets present opportunities for women-led business in the consumer goods, F&B and tech sector, where women are more equally represented, and NZTE is there to support them on the ground.
Entrepreneur Melissa Gollan, via recorded video message, dished out business advice for women looking to venture out to Southeast Asia, in particular Singapore where the commercial headquarter of her business is based.
In Singapore, which has developed from third world to first world status, being a women is possibly the best, as it does not bring any advantage or disadvantage due to their system being driven by meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty, she said.
“They just want the best of the best.”
In other practical advice for businesses venturing to a new market, she recommended that one should not rely on only one source of support, as she counted Enterprise Singapore, Singapore’s Economic Development Board, NZTE, and even foreign embassies as places she has sought and received help.
The insights from the speakers were followed by a lively Q&A and discussion and a networking session with the enthusiastic audience.