The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way economies are operating and firms are conducting businesses. The pandemic has accelerated the need for deeper digitalisation across and within economies. On the downside, the pandemic has also led to greater digital divides among countries and regions. The distributional effect and welfare loss from the pandemic has been uneven. Women at the grassroots level, with medium, small and micro enterprises have been severely affected due to the lack of capacity development and practical training on ways to leverage digital infrastructure for e-commerce and digital marketing. According to the Global Gender Gap Report (2021), the “COVID-19 crisis has also accelerated automation and digitalization, speeding up labour market disruptions. The Gender Gap in Economic Participation will take 267.6 years to close”. There are significant challenges for gender parity in the future of jobs due to increasing occupational gender segregation. The female population relative to male population across the Commonwealth including South Asia is significant. As a result, the future labor force will require greater economic participation of women.
Similar trend on gender digital divide is also apparent in South Asia where, female labour force participation is among the lowest in the world and women entrepreneurship is a widely untapped source of economic and social progress, and job creation. According to statistics, only 8 to 9% of formal SMEs are owned by women in South Asia as compared to 38% to 47% in other regions (East, Central Asia and East Europe). Statistics reveal that female labor force participation rate in South Asia currently stands at less than 30% which is less than half of 61% of ASEAN partners. Thus, Sustainable Development Goal 5 needs to be the foundation of actions taken to achieve a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future for the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the pandemic has led to an exponential increase in e-commerce business in the region, which in turn has provided a huge opportunity to women entrepreneurs. It is thereby required to strengthen and promote women entrepreneurship in South Asia by bridging the existing digital divide.
Keeping this in view, this training is being organized by The Commonwealth Secretariat and the UNESCAP South and South-West Asia office, to equip the women entrepreneurs from the Commonwealth Secretariat including from South Asia, to use digital and online platforms to leverage digital infrastructure as well as lead them to become a part of the global supply chain.