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13 Apr 2021 | KSL

Experts highlight women traders’ vulnerability to COVID-19, other stressors

Syed Muhammad Abubakar & Janita Gurung

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Women entrepreneurs are generally engaged in informal businesses. The business environment can made more enabling for such entrepreneurs if informal businesses are formalized. (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD)


Bringing mountain women across borders
Women entrepreneurs are generally engaged in informal businesses. The business environment can made more enabling for such entrepreneurs if informal businesses are formalized. (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD)


Women traders in the Hindu Kush Himalaya face many constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted their economic activities. This and other issues and challenges were highlighted at a webinar that we organized along with CUTS International on 11 March.

The objective of the webinar titled “Bringing mountain women across borders – A case of women traders in the Hindu Kush Himalaya” was to share preliminary findings of an explorative study that we conducted together with CUTS International across four transboundary landscapes of the HKH region: Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir Landscape (HKPL), Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL), Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL), and the Far Eastern Himalaya (HILIFE). The other objectives were to bring together stakeholders from the HKH transboundary landscapes to discuss the formal and informal trade in the landscapes and the challenges faced by women traders; to identify shocks and vulnerabilities, including the impact of COVID-19; and to identify priority actions to enhance their resilience to shocks and vulnerabilities.

In his opening remarks, our Director General Pema Gyamtsho said that women use cross-border trade to supplement family income but most of this trade occurs at an informal level. He underscored the need for HKH member countries to enact flexible visa regulations. “There is a need to have HKH brands and common certification systems, particularly geographical indication (GI) for niche mountain products. This will enable growers and producers to compete in international markets. ICIMOD would be happy to facilitate the process of cross-border trade in the HKH within the frame of law,” he added.

Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International noted that women traders in the HKH region face multiple challenges and their economic activities have faced severe disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veena Vidyadharan, Fellow, CUTS International shared the preliminary findings of the study and highlighted major external shocks that affect business activities of women – seasonal nature of business, extreme events and natural disasters, geopolitical tensions, poor transportation, and the recent pandemic. Vidyadharan recommended capacity building of women entrepreneurs and traders for promoting niche products such as chiuri ghee (from the Indian butter tree), large cardamom, beeswax, sea buckthorn, and scorpion grass, and local art and handicrafts such as Aipan art and handmade carpets.

Women entrepreneurs from HKPL, KL, KSL, and the Far Eastern Himalaya also shared their experiences in trade before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, mentioning also that women traders who relied on exhibitions and trade fairs suffered heavy financial losses due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions. Our colleague Kamala Gurung, Gender and Natural Resource Management Specialist led this session.

Bipul Chatterjee moderated the second panel discussion and he asked panelists to suggest how the business environment could be made more enabling for women entrepreneurs and whether informal businesses should be formalized. The panelists included Mozammil Shinwari, Executive Director, Organization for Economic Studies and Peace, Afghanistan; Kunzang Lhamu, Director General, Department of Employment and Human Resources, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, Bhutan; Pankaj Tewari, Executive Director, Aarohi, Uttarakhand, India; and Reeta Simha, President, Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal, Nepal.

The discussion was followed by Q&A session and concluding remarks by our Senior Gender Specialist colleague Chanda Gurung Goodrich.


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