Intervention of Undersecretary Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo, Philippines DICT

Empowering Women Micro-Entrepreneurs in the Digital Economy

Q: From our research in several countries outside the Philippines, we've seen that there are various barriers preventing women micro-entrepreneurs from using a mobile phone to support their businesses. What barriers have you seen in the Philippines, and are these different for men? [3 mins]

A study by the International Finance Corp. (IFC), in partnership with an online selling platform, showed that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was more
pronounced on Filipino women micro-entrepreneurs. Sales of women-owned businesses in the Philippines shrank by 27 percent in 2020 following the pandemic-induced economic recession.[1]

In a survey conducted by our Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in June 2020, at the height of the community quarantines, 26 percent of over 2000 MSME respondents ceased operations, 52 percent went on partial operations. Moreover, 91 percent reported a decline in sales.[2]

But based also on the records of DTI, there were 85,074 new business name registrations as of October 2020 under the “retail sale via the internet” business activity. Of these, 84 percent, or 70,199 enterprises, were owned by women.[3]

If we look into the data, while existing MSMEs—whether engaged in online business or otherwise—were affected by the pandemic, there were also those who saw an
opportunity to engage in online business during the pandemic, and many of whom are women.

According to GSMA, 52 million Filipinos, including a significant number of women, living in areas already covered by mobile broadband do not use mobile internet. Among the barriers faced by women are handset and data cost, limited access to networks and electricity, and safety and security concerns.[4]

For women micro-entrepreneurs, while access to a mobile phone could be a barrier, we think the greater challenges include slow or no internet connectivity,
especially in the rural areas; lack of awareness, technical know-how, and skills; and low access to digital financing products, such as e-wallets and
other banking services.

A Digital Readiness Study showed that while most have started their digital journey through social media sites, women entrepreneurs need more knowledge and
skills to optimize the digital platform and convert engagement to sales.[5]

The IFC study also showed that women entrepreneurs could better compete if they have the necessary digital selling skills as well as access to credit. But 61
percent of women in the Philippines still do not own a bank account and were not part of the formal economy.

Moreover, gender stereotypes still exist in some parts of the country, especially in rural areas. There is still that notion that ICT, and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields in general, as a form of productive endeavor, are more appropriate fields for male members of the family.[6]

We also have to consider the fact that many women micro-entrepreneurs are also in-charge of the household and caring for their families. A change in mindset—such that caring for the household is a shared responsibility between men and women—can greatly contribute to empowering women micro-entrepreneurs.

The use of digital technologies presents opportunities for the formalization and growth of enterprises. It facilitates connectivity, flexibility, and efficiency
in business operations and provides a wider market for micro-entrepreneurs. But we need to level the playing field and make sure that these opportunities are
equally accessible to all existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, regardless of gender.

Q: The Philippines has spearheaded a number of initiatives to digitally empower women entrepreneurs including through the SheTrades PH Hub. The Philippines also allocates 5% of departmental budgets to gender and development activities. From your perspective, how has this impacted entrepreneurship of women and what other policies or initiatives are needed to ensure that women micro-entrepreneurs in the Philippines are able to fully leverage mobile services to run their businesses? [3 mins]

The Philippine government has a strong legal and policy framework to protect and promote women’s rights, as well as women’s engagement in micro, small and
medium enterprises (MSMEs). That is why, as we recognized the barriers mentioned earlier, the government is already addressing these challenges.

In the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), digital inclusion and gender equality are among the priorities. Our Free Wi-Fi program
intends to provide broadband connectivity in all parts of the country, particularly the unserved and underserved areas. We already have more than 4,000 live sites in our different regions. We aim to have more than 15,000 sites in 2023, and 100,000 sites by 2025.The provision of free Wi-Fi is complemented by trainings to improve digital literacy, as well as the provision of tablets and solar and gas-powered generators, whichever is needed by the community.

We have 1,032 Tech4ED Centers in the country that provide critical e-government and ICT-enabled services in communities with minimal to no access to information
and government services. We have also commenced the Startup Grant Fund (SGF) application process. This will provide financial grants for new and early-stage
startups relating to startup development, capacity building, and network building. It is targeted to specifically help and nurture startups by providing pre-seed to seed funding that shall make the ecosystem be more active and investable.

In line with our commitment to the ITU, the DICT launched the Digital Innovation for Women Advancement (DIWA) to encourage young women and girls to pursue
studies and career related to STEM for their social and economic empowerment.

We are also advancing E-governance. The streamlining of government services is crucial to help women micro-entrepreneurs easily access government services,
including the application of necessary permits that will allow them to expand their businesses and access credit.

Other agencies of government have established their respective programs for women’s economic empowerment. We have the SheTrades PH Hub under the Department of Trade and Industry that allows Filipina-led businesses to network, sell products and services, and access e-learning programs and market tools to enhance their participation in international trade.

Our Department of Labor and Employment, through its Kabuhayan Program, helps women venture into entrepreneurship by providing a grant assistance for capacity building on livelihood for the working poor, vulnerable, and marginalized workers, either for individual or group livelihood projects/undertakings.

The Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) of our Department of Science and Technology benefits women entrepreneurs to adopt technological innovations to improve their products, services, operations and increase their productivity and competitiveness. The program provides technical assistance and consultancy services for design of product packages and labels and assists MSMEs in securing product certifications.

These initiatives help provide our women micro-entrepreneurs the needed boost not only to continue, upgrade, or start their business, but also to utilize mobile
services and other digital technologies.

The role of the government is vital in encouraging women to venture into the digital economy. Addressing the digital divide and digital gender gap, particularly
in the areas of entrepreneurship and ICT, will help women entrepreneurs harness the potential of the digital economy in improving the competitiveness and
productivity of their business operations.

Case Study on "Women ICT Frontier Initiative (WIFI) in the Philippines"