From the devastating health emergency to the social, economic, and political shocks, the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off guard. Condolences to those who have been affected by this crisis are in order and gratitude to the frontline workers who are toiling tirelessly to keep the global community safe.

Beyond the immediate need to find medical solutions to fight the pandemic, all stakeholders must collectively take steps to ensure a full and sustainable economic recovery. Workers and businesses must be protected, especially in the most affected sectors, to make this a reality.

Engaging in international trade and promoting global cooperation can contribute greatly to maintaining the delivery of key goods and services and the continuity of global supply chains.

Women play a vital role in the economy and international trade. For example, women often work or own businesses to support their families, take on a larger share of care and domestic responsibilities, and are more likely to make household income decisions that benefit their families and their communities.

Women tend to be disproportionally affected as workers, producers, business owners, and individuals both at home and in society. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, women entrepreneurs faced barriers when seeking resources to help them launch and grow successful businesses.

When it comes to trade, we see that women entrepreneurs tend to grow their businesses faster and employ more people – both men and women – which can contribute to economic growth, innovation, productivity, poverty reduction, and development.

With the economic difficulties disproportionately affecting women, we risk reversing progress made toward gender equality. Yet with proper support, women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses can play a central role in economic recovery.

Due to their size and sectorial concentration, women-led businesses are more affected by shocks such as COVID-19. Even though women own about a third of the world’s micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, they own or manage just 20% of exporting firms. Because they tend to be smaller, these firms are usually more affected by fixed costs, volatile international prices, and trade-related regulations and obstacles.

The current situation requires us to ensure that the crisis does not worsen existing gender inequalities that affect women’s access to resources and equitable economic opportunities. It presents the incentive to involve women as part of the solution for economic resilience beyond the pandemic, and simply because it is ‘smart economics’.

Pandemic-induced disruptions to the global economy have significant negative implications for women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But they also open a unique opportunity to transform supply chains and policymaking to put women in business at the center of our recovery path.

Before recovery initiatives are addressed, we need to first understand the current business climate in reference to the pandemic and how it has affected women’s businesses.

If women have a vital role to play in post Covid-19 pandemic recovery, this then poses the question: What must be done to unlock the power of women’s entrepreneurship?

There are actions that policymakers, corporations, and the global community can take to ensure that ‘building back better’ after the COVID-19 pandemic unlocks women’s entrepreneurship and creates more equal and sustainable societies.

As COVID-19 reshapes global value chains and policy landscapes, governments, corporations, and the international community must collectively take steps to ensure a full and sustainable economic recovery.

Leaders drawn from government, business, and women’s economic empowerment networks must identify key trends and potential scenarios for women in trade and take action to ensure that ‘building back better’ unlocks women’s entrepreneurship and results in more equal and sustainable societies.

These actions may include strategies to boost women’s participation in corporate and government procurement markets, devise financing and business support options that match the needs of small women-led firms, and provide targeted training to promote resilience and competitiveness.