There is a need in Africa to stimulate trade that is inclusive and employment intensive and this, according to a 2012 report by the World Bank, can be achieved by encouraging and supporting intra-regional trade. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 expressly calls for an integrated continent, typified by the free movement of people, goods and services. This is aligned to NEPAD's broad vision of economic growth rooted in greater regional and inter-regional trade in Africa. This would offer a real opportunity for Africa to increase productivity and growth over a sustained period. A further benefit is that promoting cross-border trade can be a key factor in alleviating poverty as the poor generally both produce and trade the basic goods that dominate such transactions. This, additionally, has a direct benefit for women in Africa as they have been at the forefront of cross–border trade both as a source of income and employment. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, women constitute up to 70% of the informal cross-border traders in the SADC region, while a survey of the World Bank found that 85% of the traders in the DRC are women, yet 82% of the officials who regulate the border are men.
Many of these women are self-employed and engagement in cross-border trade provides them with a means of selling their local produce and increasing the income of their families. According to UN Women Watch, cross-border trade has resulted in new trans-national networks supported by common languages, culture and kinship and it is an important means for the women to reduce poverty. However, women traders must contend with many challenges such as limited market information, lack of knowledge of trade regulations and procedures, and physical vulnerability whilst travelling and at border crossings. In the course of trying to conduct their trades, women are vulnerable to corrupt officials soliciting bribes, sexual abuse and the confiscation of goods. These barriers prevent women from fully realizing the economic benefits from intraregional trade, while also imposing psychological and societal costs that reinforce the disempowerment of women in the continent.
The disbursement provided by the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment helped national trade promotion organisations and women exporters to gain access to dedicated services and reach foreign markets. Consultative forums were utilised as a tool for female entrepreneurs to discuss the barriers they face in developing goods and services for export markets. Workshops were convened to delineate the specific rules governing business in the different Regional Economic Communities (RECs) of Africa. Furthermore, policy interventions aimed at facilitating cross-border trade, were developed. To support the work of informal women traders, two federations and 10 associations were established. An important initiative to promote cross-border trade was a study of administrative procedures at border posts, as well as the development of a list of national and regional instruments governing migration and customs procedures in the COMESA, ECCAS and SADC Regional Economic Communities. This revealed many disparities between the member countries and a guide to good practice in respect of administrative, customs and migration procedures was therefore developed.
Key lessons learned from projects:
- Develop resources outlining policies and procedures governing migration and customs procedures that affect cross-border trading across Africa
- Engage with regional and national structures that govern regional and international trade to facilitate gender mainstreaming in this area
- Convene forums that articulate the challenges and aspirations of women entrepreneurs regarding cross-border trade
- Institute mechanisms to reduce the vulnerability of women cross-border traders
Develop resources outlining policies and procedures governing migration and customs procedures that affect cross-border trade across Africa
A clear need emerged from the various projects for the development of resources that cover all national and regional instruments governing migration and customs procedures across Africa. These should particularly relate to cross-border trading in the regional economic communities (RECs) and should be written in a language that informal traders can easily understand.
This issue was addressed by CFEMA (National Council of Women Entrepreneurs in Mali) at the workshop they convened in Mali for 30 women on mastering the basics of regional economic trade and cross-border issues. At the end of the workshop the attendees understood how to increase their effectiveness in general and more specifically, the rules governing business in ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. The Centre for African Women and Economic Empowerment (CAWEE) organised five consultative forums in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to assist national trade organisations and women exporters to gain access to dedicated services and reach foreign markets. An outcome was the establishment of an online portal for women exporters and developing policy interventions aimed at facilitating cross-border trade.
CEPGL (Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries) effectively addressed these problems by developing an online database of women active in informal cross-border trade; creating a list of national and regional instruments governing migration and customs procedures in the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries area relating to cross-border trade; compiling a guide to good practice in respect of administrative, customs and migration; and initiating a series of workshops and regular meetings to discuss procedures.
Engage with regional and national structures that govern regional and international trade to facilitate gender mainstreaming in this area
Several projects stressed the need for enhanced engagement with regional and national structures that govern regional and international trade to facilitate gender mainstreaming in this area. CEPGL (Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries), for example, addressed the problems women traders face that arise from existing migration and customs procedures. These problems, coupled with safety issues, were identified as a contributory cause of the poor socio-economic wellbeing of women engaged in cross-border informal trade within the Community. The construction of a cross-border market for informal trade within the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries was established as a pilot project. This is an urgent need because women traders have often worked in deplorable conditions, lacking display space, sanitation, hygienic surroundings and storage facilities. A pilot project aimed at improving facilities for women engaged in cross-border trade was a significant part of the overall project.
The MINICOM (Ministry of Trade and Industry) project in Rwanda provided training for 650 women working as cross-border traders. The MINICOM project included Trade Policy and Cross-border Strategies, Rwanda Cooperative Policy and Law, Entrepreneurship and Taxation, and Simplified Trade Regimes in EAC and COMESA. The project subsequently facilitated the organisation of 875 women into 37 trade cooperatives to improve their advocacy and opportunities, providing capacity building programmes focused on entrepreneurship, and instilling knowledge on trading requirements and up-scaling opportunities.
Convene forums that articulate the challenges and aspirations of women entrepreneurs regarding cross-border trade
Women traders, while making an important contribution to cross-border trading and improving their families’ livelihoods, face many challenges. It is therefore important to convene forums where these women can articulate their challenges and aspirations regarding cross-border trade. Such forums should further arrive at solutions to address these problems.
Many of the projects took a step in the right direction to mitigate the problems women traders face when engaging in cross-border trading. For example, the Centre for African Women and Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), organised advocacy/consultative forums which addressed the challenges Ethiopian women entrepreneurs face in cross-border trade. The MINICOM (Ministry of Trade and Industry) project, again, facilitated the organisation of 875 women into trade cooperatives aimed at improving their advocacy and opportunities, providing capacity building programmes focused on entrepreneurship, and instilling knowledge on trading requirements and up-scaling opportunities. The National Council of Women Entrepreneurs in Mali convened a workshop for 30 women on regional economic trade and other issues of importance for Malian businesswomen. At the end of the workshop the attendees better understood how to increase their effectiveness in trading and more specifically, the rules governing business in ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union.
Institute mechanisms to reduce the vulnerability of women cross-border traders
Many studies have identified the vulnerability of women cross-border traders and despite the valuable contribution that they make to improve the livelihoods of their families, very little is done to alleviate their plight. Since they are mainly engaged in informal trade, their contribution to intra-regional trade in Africa is under-reported and they still suffer from invisibility, stigmatization, lack of recognition of their economic contribution, physical/sexual violence, poor working conditions, and harassment, particularly from border officials. There is therefore a clear need to implement mechanisms to reduce the vulnerability of women cross-border traders.
The CEPGL (Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries) project incisively addressed the plight of these women through a pilot project which, amongst others, aimed at empowering these women and securing their safety in cross-border informal trade. In Mali, cross-border trade with Burkina Faso, principally in fish and fish products, is pursued largely through the work of women informal traders. The GAAS-Mali (Animation Action Group in Sahel Mali) project not only strengthened the economic capacity of the Malian women traders, but also developed measures to protect women traders against violence on the routes to the market. Interventions included training to strengthen their knowledge of administrative and financial management and the payment of medical fees for those undergoing treatment arising from previous incidents of gender-based violence. Treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and control of HIV /AIDS infections was undertaken.