Women in Cross-Border Trade Formalise their Business

The IIDEA project carried out by Base for Education Dissemination (BED) collects and documents experiences and success stories of women in cross-border trade in the Mara region of Tanzania and Migori in Kenya with a view to encouraging more women to recognise the competitive advantage of regional trade opportunities and become involved.

“We are very thankful for the project for providing us with a platform of making our voices and wishes known by the Authorities. We never thought if a day will come when simple women traders will have an opportunity to suggest to the government on what affects our businesses and livelihood in general.” Evelyne Joseph Mwita, A ready-made clothes shop trader along Sirari border

During the COVID-19 crises this project of story gathering helped a lot to keep the women along the border of Isebania in Kenya and Sirari in Tanzania connected when the Kenyan government had proclaimed a lockdown in the country. The 130 women engaged in this project stayed connected through a planned online e-commerce portal and social media. Moreover, the project encouraged and supported the women to suggest how they wanted the two governments to handle the East African Community (EAC) border regime at the Isebania and Sirari Borders and how to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses.

Another practical action taken by BED for the women cross border traders was the production of a simplified trade guide on the EAC trade regime in Swahili, explaining which steps women cross-border traders should take to comply with the EAC trade and border requirements.

BED has also developed a petition addressed to the Ministries of East African Affairs in Kenya and Tanzania to express the concerns of women in cross-border trade along Isebania and Sirari. The petition states that despite the Common Market Protocol doing business across the EAC border is still cumbersome and that there is a need to set up information or facilitation desks to inform women traders where to get information regarding the taxes, duties, and immigration procedures.

“The simplified trade guide has been a help for me personally to comply to set rules and regulations hence run my business in harmony with the authorities”.  Elizabeth Nyabomba- General Merchandise shop, Sirari

The petition also stresses the fact that the women concerned need simplified, easy to understand information regarding the border procedures, tariffs and health requirements, so that they do not need to use middlemen who help them in their trade at considerable fees. All 130 women sampled during the survey which formed the basis of this petition had formalized their business, which shows that they are ready to comply with the formal and legal requirements of cross-border trade.

The petition will be submitted to the Tanzania MEACA immediately after the 2020 General Elections in November 2020 and to the Kenyan MEAC as soon as the COVID 19 locked has been lifted.

The petition among other things seeks the governments of Kenya and Tanzania to consider setting a conducive protective environment for women cross-border traders’ businesses during and post the COVID-19 period."
Theresa Mjuni, cross-border trader

According to the data of the Tanzania Women Chamber of Commerce (TWCC) and the Kenya Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (KCCI) women wing, there was a 20% increase in the number of women who had transitioned from informal to formal trade as a result of the BED project interventions. The increase might have been even higher without the COVID 19 crisis.

The activities involving women cross-border traders and border officials and the increased advocacy and information work have not only increased the awareness of women cross-border traders about trade facilitation conditions, procedures, policies and regulations and how they are connected to the EAC common market protocol. They have also caused government authorities to become more aware of the challenges women are facing when engaging in cross border trade between Kenya and Tanzania and also of possible ways to resolve these challenges.

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