Giving Voices to EAC Women Cross-Border Traders

“The decision to formalise my business was a turning point for my little business. I now have a business address and my suppliers and customers know exactly where to find me. And being faithful, often time suppliers give me goods on credit and I pay them back after selling the goods.” This statement, made by Esther John, a maize trader at the Isebania-Sirari border between Kenya and Tanzania, shows the great benefits that women cross-border traders gain from formalising their business.

Base for Education Dissemination (BED), a civil society organisation from Mwanza, Tanzania, facilitated this formalisation process through a project implemented between November 2019 and February 2021. Their approach was to advance social and economic development of communities through knowledge creation and dissemination. The project was funded by EAC-GIZ through the Incubator for Integration and Development in East Africa (IIDEA).

Mrs Esther John

Collecting and disseminating success stories of women in cross-border trade in Mara Region in Tanzania and Migori County in Kenya and supplying women traders with the information they need to formalise and run their businesses successfully was at the core of this initiative. More and more women recognised the competitive advantage of regional trade opportunities and became involved.

From the outset it became clear that women have little information about the rights and opportunities that arise for them from the EAC Common Market Protocols, especially on the free movement of goods and persons as well as on cross-border trade formalisation processes, procedures and documentation. A Gender Desk at the Isebania-Sirari border, advocated for and facilitated by BED, was an important step to support the women in knowing their rights and processing their goods properly. The Gender Desk led to increased formalisation of businesses of women in cross-border trade, with 96 new businesses registering. It also had a mitigating effect on the harassment of women in cross-border trade. Whereas prior to the project, 48% of women traders had complained of harassment by border officials, this number went down to 9% when the Gender Desk was in place.

BED collected almost 2,000 stories shared by women cross-border traders, shedding light on their successes as well as challenges. These stories provided first-hand feedback to border authorities, making them aware of the plights and challenges those women face. Government authorities responded by providing special training to border officials on customer care and gender dimensions of cross-border trade.

“We are very thankful to the project for providing us with a platform of making our voices and wishes known by the authorities. We never thought that 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,” notes Evelyne Joseph Mwita, a garment trader along the border.

Mrs Evelyn Joseph

The production of a Simplified Trade Guide on the EAC trade regime in Kiswahili was another practical action taken by BED. The Guide explains which steps women cross-border traders should take to comply with the EAC trade and border requirements. Elizabeth Nyabomba, who runs a general merchandise shop in Sirari, stresses: “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.”

Stella Lucas, a grain store owner in Sirari, talks about her thought process on why she formalised her business. “I realized that trading informally was more expensive and riskier as the line between continuing with business and loosing capital is very thin. In informal cross-border trade, you can wake up the next morning without business capital if happens that your goods are confiscated by the authorities.” She notes that clashes with local government authorities have been reduced significantly.

Mrs Stella Lucas

Thanks to this joint project by BED and IIDEA under the EAC, the conditions for women cross-border traders at this border between Kenya and Tanzania have improved, setting an example for other border points across the EAC region.

Find more information on BED here and on the BED web site .

Photo credits: BED/EAC IIDEA

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