Published on Eurasian Perspectives

Tajikistan: Empowering women in cross-border trade

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Three women wearing headscarves and smiling next to each other. © Nozim Kalandarov/World Bank

Traders in Tajikistan bring many economic benefits to the country, but they often face a number of challenges. Many traders wait for countless hours at border crossings, where they encounter a confusing array of customs regulations and procedures. Access to finance can be hard to obtain, limiting their options to expand to new markets. And compared to their male counterparts, female traders face more difficulties starting and operating cross-border businesses. 

World Bank data show that female labor force participation in Tajikistan stands at only 31 percent, in contrast to 52 percent for males. By addressing the barriers women face in cross-border trade, Tajikistan can unlock the enormous potential that female entrepreneurs can bring.  More trade means more jobs, more income, more tax revenue, and more options for consumers. It also provides a pathway to tap into the global economy, which can positively impact Tajikistan’s GDP and make its economy more inclusive and resilient.  

A recent World Bank study funded by the QII Partnership, Gender Dimensions of Cross-Border Trade in Tajikistan, highlights the challenges women traders face at the borders and offers recommendations for addressing them. This study—a first of its kind in Central Asia—involved a survey of over 430 cross-border trade firms and customs brokers between March and November 2022, complemented by border visits, focus group discussions, and in-depth interviews.  

The study revealed several gender-specific challenges to trade in Tajikistan. Women traders reportedly experience more irregularities in how border processes are conducted, resulting in less predictability in the time and cost to move goods across the borders.  Women also find official websites to be less user-friendly, and that the relevant information is not located in a single, accessible place.  Fewer women-owned trading firms can readily find information about appeal processes, and significantly more women traders are unsatisfied with the amenities provided at the land border posts or airports. Fewer women traders are consulted regularly or have the opportunity to comment on public consultations regarding changes to official trade processes and procedures. On top of these business challenges, women traders are often responsible for looking after their families, which interferes with their trading activities. 

Woman standing in city with long reddish hair smiling, wearing green jacket and a red shirt.
© Shutterstock/World Bank

Easing trade at the borders

The study identified a number of steps that can ease cross-border trade in the country. First, at the macro level, expediting the full and effective implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Trade Facilitation Agreement would lay the groundwork for a smoother process and benefit all traders.  

Specific measures that address the gender gap in cross-border trade could make a difference to Tajikistan’s women entrepreneurs as well. For example: 

  • Fully automate border crossings. Avoiding face-to-face interactions by promoting the system for electronic submission of documents and electronic payments at border crossings saves time and costs to all traders and it can also significantly reduce the risks of gender discrimination.  

  • Improving access to official border regulations and procedures. The government should continue enhancing existing platforms, such as the Trade Information Portal, the Single Window, and border signage at border control posts, and inquiry points should be promoted among traders as a source for trade-related information. 

  • Improving gender-responsive customer care. Minimum requirements for gender-responsive customer care could be established. This involves a review of border management practices and the existing Code of Ethics of the Customs Service with gender equality in mind, and complemented by training for border officials and staff in customer-facing roles. 

  • Enhancing public-private consultations, especially those including women-led firms. Formal and regular consultations with the business community on proposed changes to processes and procedures increase compliance levels when implemented. A consultation mechanism should be accompanied by an efficient communication strategy to ensure that the trade community is aware of any proposed new laws and regulations. 

  • Recruiting more women staff and improving staff working conditions in border agencies. Improvements can be made in the areas related to human resources, such as employment, work-life balance, career development, physical working conditions, and a feedback mechanism for staff, which can result in increased employee satisfaction and performance and gender-responsive customer service.

Collaborative approaches 

The report's findings present an opportunity to reshape trade facilitation measures, making them more inclusive and effective. Addressing the findings requires strong collaboration among governments, international organizations, and private sector stakeholders to create an enabling environment for all traders, and women traders in particular.  

By understanding and addressing the unique challenges women face in trade, we can strengthen economic opportunities for women traders, build more resilient supply chains, and foster sustainable, inclusive economic development. 


Nato Kurshitashvili

Senior Gender Specialist

Heidi Stensland Warren

Senior Private Sector Specialist

Mariyam Raziyeva

Consultant, Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global Practice

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