Traidcraft Exchange and Women’s Empowerment

Traidcraft Exchange and Women’s Empowerment

Traidcraft Exchange is an international development NGO focused on using the power of trade to change the lives of people living in poverty.  ‘Women’s empowerment’ has always been a central theme of our work, but over the last two years we’ve been trying to think more coherently and strategically about what we actually mean by this term, what difference we want to contribute towards, and how we intend to do that. 

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The culmination of this process of reflection has been the publication of our new strategy ‘Women’s Empowerment in Trade and Supply Chains’.  It’s an attempt to bring all our thinking on this topic together into one place. 


The thinking is grounded in the work that we’ve been doing across South Asia and Africa, and is informed by our Policy and Advocacy activities too.  For example, we’ve worked with women artisans in northern India who spend a large amount of their time doing vital preparatory work for handloom weaving – getting the looms ready for their husbands, brothers and fathers.  It’s the men who are recognised as ‘weavers’, but their work is impossible to do without the invisible and unpaid work completed by women.  In Bangladesh we have worked at the production end of the jute supply chains with farmers (mainly men) who grow jute. 


We’ve also worked at the manufacturing end of the same supply chains with businesses that create end-products using jute yarn and cloth.  Working at both ends of the supply chain in this way revealed an intermediary stage of processing that is conducted exclusively by women and requires them standing for hours on end in polluted stagnant water stripping the jute fibres from the plant’s stem.  This is critical but hazardous work and it goes completely unrecognised by the sector that was once the mainstay of the Bangladeshi economy.  These women are invisible, underpaid and subject to dangerous working conditions – yet their work is fundamental to so much else. 

It’s these examples and many more that have informed the development of the new strategy.  You can read more about some of this work on our Traidcraft-in-depth blog

But what do these experiences tell us about what ‘women’s empowerment in trade and supply chains’ actually means?  At its heart it’s about power – em-power-ment.  At Traidcraft Exchange we’ve come to the conclusion that our work needs to focus on enabling women to have greater power to benefit from and shape their own work, and that this comes about when the following conditions have been achieved: women,

  • Are recognised for the important roles they play in trade and supply chains;
  • Gain equal access to economic resources and opportunities; 
  • Derive equitable returns from their work and enterprise;
  • Have power in deciding how the rewards from their efforts are used;
  • Have a strong voice in shaping their working and living environments;
  • Can influence and derive greater benefit from fairer trade and enterprise policies and practice.

Bringing about these changes is how our work contributes towards women’s empowerment.  And by contributing towards this bigger aim, over the longer-term, we believe that we can contribute towards women:

  • Influencing a wide range of institutions and the policies and practices which affect their lives more broadly;
  • Having a better balance of non-paid work between men and women within the household and community;
  • Experiencing improved relations between men and women in all aspects of their lives at the personal, family, and community levels.

We know that achieving sustainable change takes time and therefore we’re committed to women’s empowerment as a long-term endeavour.  We cannot claim to know everything about the topic, and I suspect that as our work in this area evolves, and as we learn from the work of others in the sector, we’ll make refinements to the strategy. It’s starting-point, and we’re keen to hear from others about how our understanding of this oft-used term overlaps, coheres or runs-counter to theirs: please do get in touch and read our strategy document here.