Mekong Institute (MI) organized a research forum entitled the “Third Multi-Stakeholder Forum: Research Dissemination and Validation” at Sofitel Saigon Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City on 10th August 2022. This was a research dissemination forum as part of a three-year Women in Trade Knowledge Platform research project. The exclusive event was attended by around 40 representatives from key private and public sector organizations, such as business associations, export promotion agencies, policy makers, trade policy research institutions, and women-led exporting companies in Vietnam. The forum aimed to validate the research’s key findings and analysis; seek feedback and inputs from the stakeholders on the data and information gathered; and ensure the policy recommendations are understood and relevant to the key stakeholders, including the policy-makers, practitioners, women-led exporting businesses, and development actors.

I am very impressed with the nature and scale of this project as it has been carried out after the Covid-19 pandemic where businesses still had many difficulties to restore production and survive. This is considered a bright spot to significantly support women-owned enterprises, both in the private and public sectors in developing countries, expanding opportunities for international business cooperation

ITPC is a government agency under the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh city, specializing in facilitating investment and trade.
Subsequently, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Minh, the Chairwoman of Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs Council (VWEC) under Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also stated that many women still lack equal access to institutional support and economic opportunities, despite numerous initiatives implemented in Vietnam. Mrs. Nguyen highlighted the importance of strengthening women players in the trade sectors. “We hope that VWEC will continue to receive Mekong Institute’s close and effective cooperation in activities to support the female business community in the region in general and in Vietnam in particular”, she concluded her remarks.  

Following the opening remarks delivered by the two guests of honor, Mr. Madhuryjya K. Dutta, the Director of TIF at Mekong Institute, shared the project overview and goal of the research project, which is “to establish a knowledge platform that will serve as a tool to fill important gaps related to the collection, storage, and analysis of gender-disaggregated sector-specific trade and employment data”. Mr. Dutta explained that the research explored in-depth insights into gender equality in trade sectors with a focus on improving women’s economic empowerment through job creation, contributing to sustainable and inclusive growth in Vietnam and Cambodia”.

Dr. Teddy Y. Samy, Director/Professor at The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA), Carleton University, presented the key findings from the MSME survey conducted in 2021. He observed that “the survey results were helpful because they allowed us to go behind the numbers – whether significant or not – to find out more about the reasons behind them. To put it bluntly, even if the expected response was lower for a question, it was important for us to know what was driving it”. Some of the survey findings include:

  • Women tend to be hired for other reasons (productivity, skills, nature of work etc.) than bridging gender gaps;
  • No government and regulatory incentives to hire women were reported in Vietnam’s case;
  • Women-owned exporting SMEs tend to hire more women than men;
  • Output per worker and salaries, are higher in exporting SMEs than in non-exporting SMEs, indicating that exporting SMEs should be supported to boost incomes and achieve gender parity in this regard;
  • 20 percent of all SMEs surveyed mentioned that women-led SMEs encounter more difficulties in trade but here again, there is more variation across countries. In the case of Vietnam, that number was about half of the average when compared to…;
  • Finally, gender is seen to be less of a constraint for exporting than other constraints in the case of both men and women-owned SMEs in Vietnam.

Ms. Jasmine Lal Fak Mawii, Program Coordinator in the Trade and Investment Facilitation Department at Mekong Institute, shared the qualitative country case study report. Ms. Jasmine shared that “our research indicates thatthe explicit inclusion of institutional supports for women-led exporting firms still remains a necessary gap to address, and there is still a disconnect between women entrepreneurs and policymakers when it comes to information sharing. The majority of women-led enterprises in the SME sector are still not aware of the existing policies or trade opportunities they could tap into in Vietnam”.

The policy recommendations for Vietnam to address both the opportunities and challenges of women in export include:

  • Gender integration into trade strategies and export priorities with specific implementation plans;
  • Further incorporation of the gender mainstreaming chapter in all of multilateral or bilateral FTAs with binary commitment plan in place;
  • One-stop business incubators that directly connect exporting SMEs with certified and committed international buyers;
  • Loan and tax incentives designed for good social impact performing SMEs in the trade sectors;
  • Development of a Market Diversification and Market Intelligence Portal that will help identify potential new export markets and provide product-specific trade information;
  • Gender mainstreaming in operations of capital financing instruments in order to ensure equal access to finance for women-led businesses;
  • Industry-specific capacity building for exporting firms where participants are grouped by similar size, industry, or by business nature;
  • Online one-stop service for government loans and business support services to ease the process for women entrepreneurs who run export-oriented factories outside the cities.

Following the two presentations, the participants provided comments, questions, and suggestions that will be incorporated into the report finalizing process. The participants also suggested to include policy and law enforcement mechanism to protect women exporters/importers from business fraud, especially dealing with international players over digital channels. The research team will further incorporate the comments and suggestions from the forum throughout the finalization process of the report. The final consolidated research report is intended to publish by the end of 2022.

WIT Knowledge Platform research project is led by the Trade Facilitation Office (TFO) Canada with financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. MI is the regional implementing partner in Asia, focusing on Cambodia and Vietnam. The Center for the Study of the Economies of Africa, Nigeria is studying the four African countries of Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Senegal. 

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