Fostering Women Entrepreneurship in the Digital Economy

Insights from UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women Advocates (2019-2021 Cohort)

The rapid spread of digital technologies is creating new opportunities for growth and development, especially in developing countries. Yet, the benefits of digitalization are not automatic and women, across regions and continents, still face multiple obstacles to succeed in the digital economy.

Factors that hold women back are multi-dimensional. They relate to gender bias, lower participation in decision-making processes, limited digital skills, lack of trust, and unequal access to funding, among others.

If left unaddressed, gender divides will continue to widen. Recent data show that the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030 - which is one of the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda. This year’s tracker on Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) on gender equality, reveals a concerning regression in women’s economic empowerment. But this is by no means a lost cause.

In 2019, UNCTAD launched the eTrade for Women initiative, with the ambitious objective to empower more women in developing countries to embrace digital transformations, not just as consumers or buyers, but as leaders, sellers, and innovators.

A unique feature of eTrade for Women is the privileged relationship established with the eTrade for Women Advocates, outstanding women leaders in the digital economy, who have contributed to shaping the digital ecosystems in their countries and regions.

Together, while weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, we have supported over 200 women-led businesses in 30 developing countries across continents.

I am delighted to present this report which captures some of the main learnings from the first cohort of Advocates (2019-2021). Each one of them shares important lessons and recommendations of actionable measures to advance women’s participation in the digital economy.

The actions we take today will help shape a more gender-inclusive digital economy, where everyone can benefit equally from the biggest economic transformation of our times.


Shamika N. Sirimanne
Director, Division on Technology and Logistics