The African continent is experiencing a massive shift towards digital technologies and is radically transforming several sectors of the economies of its 55 countries, thereby directly impacting trade and global supply chains that link the continent. According to a 2018 study commissioned by the World Bank titled Leveraging ICT Technologies in Closing the Gender Gap, digital technologies have an enormous potential of empowering women socially and economically by availing new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.
It is in this regard that the African Center for Women, Information, and Communication Technology (ACWICT) seeks to ensure that women are connected to the world and not locked out of opportunities. The Nairobi-based not-for-profit organization works to accelerate the access of Women and Youth to ICT innovation opportunities at the community level, in order to enhance their capacity of accessing trade information, as well as engage in trade transactions more reliably and efficiently using ICT for Trade skills.
ACWICT is one of the partners working with the Incubator for Integration and Development in East Africa (IIDEA), to ensure that non-state actors in the six EAC-Partner States are implementing measures and projects for people‘s participation in regional economic integration of East Africa. The ACWICT-IIDEA partnership seeks to ensure that EAC citizens in formal and informal regional engagements fully utilize community based developed/ existing ICT solutions at the basic levels to transform their social and economic well-being.
ACWICT has been undertaking several activities in line with the IIDEA project objectives. Firstly, during the Corona virus pandemic, the importance of ACWICT’s project implementation has come to the fore. ACWICT is developing the ICT capacity of women and youth cross-border traders in ICT skills, to access trade information, engage in trade transaction more reliably, efficiently and cost effective. The organization has transferred its trainings to online platforms in order to reach women traders using digital platforms and new media that are more easily accessible. In a recent seminar held on May 4th dubbed #Tech4Girls which aims empower young women in border communities to overcome gender barriers in relation to access and use of digital technologies, ACWICT streamed the webinar on facebook, a platform which has a large user base in East Africa.
Secondly, from December to January 2020, prior to detection of Covid-19 cases in East Africa, ACWICT carried out a mixed methods cross-sectional study, commissioned at Busia and Namanga border areas. The study sought to assess EAC integration situation in the implementation of EAC protocol Agreements, ICT platforms that facilitate trade, and gauge available measures that facilitate cross-border trade for women and their use of ICT for trading. Preliminary findings indicated that small scale traders, a majority of them women, are generally unaware of cross-border trading regulations and procedures and existing online opportunities and digital solutions they can use in trading. The report concluded by making crucial recommendations aimed at encouraging the use of ICT at border points and encouraging formal cross-border trading by women cross-border traders in the East Africa Community.