What is this Project About?

Field visit - AusAID project, Odisha


South Asia is a rapidly growing subregion. Its population of more than 1.74 billion accounts for almost a quarter of the world population. Overall, the subregion currently enjoys a demographic dividend, with approximately one half of the population under 25 years old.  The countries of South Asia have made significant development in the recent years. However, one of the major challenges impeding further advancement is gender disparity. In fact, many of the “unmet” Millennium Development Goals in in the subregion are related to areas that require women’s empowerment and gender equality.

An important channel for realizing inclusive and sustainable regional development are the micro, small and medium enterprises. These entities serve as the backbone of all sectors in the economy and are an important source of employment and poverty reduction, particularly for women. They can play an important role in promoting spatially balanced inclusive growth and ensuring more equitable distribution outcomes. Yet, in South Asia, women’s share of formal small and medium enterprises is extremely low, compared to other Asian subregions.

In addition, South Asia is one of the least integrated subregions in the world. With three landlocked least developed countries and two small island economies, a key element for economic prosperity for the South Asia as a whole is to step up economic participation in the yet untapped ‘next door’ regional market. Yet, the share of intraregional trade in total trade has remained stagnant and low, in a range of 5 to 7 percent. Tariffs, tax imposed on internationally traded goods, have declined over the years as a result of regional and bilateral free trade agreements as well as unilateral efforts. But non-tariff barriers are seen as one of the main reasons behind limited intraregional trade in the subregion.

The project objective was to address key areas for promoting women’s entrepreneurs and intraregional trade in South Asia so as to build, strengthen and enhance the capacity of women’s micro, small and medium enterprises to derive greater benefits from regional markets and value chains. The Project aimed to build on and synergize with the existing initiatives including UNDP Country Offices programmes such as Micro-Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) in Nepal.

Expected outcomes:

  • Growth and development are inclusive and sustainable, incorporating productive capacities that create employment and livelihoods for the poor and excluded
  • Faster progress is achieved in reducing gender inequality and promoting women’s empowerment

What have we achieved so far?

In partnership with local think tanks and NGOs, the project conducted the field surveys in six countries to identify the barriers that women entrepreneurs encounter to conduct and expand business and trade, with a focus on cross-border trade within South Asia. These country studies serve as background papers for the regional synthesis report.



Status: Completed

Project period: October 2013-December 2016

Geographic coverage (Regional): South Asia

Focus areas: Inclusive growth, Gender Equality, South-South Cooperation, Trade  

Partner: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian DFAT)

Research Partners
Bangladesh: South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM)
Bhutan: InfoAge Consulting
India: Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) International
Nepal: South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE)
Pakistan: Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)
Sri Lanka: Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS)


Infographic: Why Are Women Not Moving Up the Value Chain?

Examines the factors that prevent women from accessing wider markets in South Asia


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