Empowering Women Cross Border Traders to Seize Opportunities in the EAC and AfCFTA

Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI)

The Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), with support from GIZ-EAC IIDEA, has started a new six-month project on ‘Positioning Women Cross Border Traders to Seize Opportunities in The East African Community and Africa Continental Free Trade Area.’

The project’s two main objectives are to enhance participation of women cross-border traders in the AfCFTA, and to advocate for gender-sensitive policies and processes in the implementation of the AfCFTA.
This project was inspired by EASSI’s research which showed that women cross-border traders face gender-specific challenges such as information gaps on cross-border regulations and procedures, lack of information on markets, competition from big companies, high taxes, exploitation, delays at borders and sexual harassment. They also face barriers in accessing capital, credit and trading networks and trade in low incentive items such as produce and consumables.

If these challenges are not addressed, trade opportunities such as the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are likely to widen gender disparities instead of realizing the women’s economic empowerment they envisage. This situation has worsened with COVID-19 pandemic response measures including border closures, lock downs, curfews and costs of COVID-19 testing when crossing borders. The measures manifest as new Non-Tariff Barriers which affect small-scale informal traders more adversely than their large-scale formal counterparts who quickly adapted to digital business.

The project is timely in its bid to enhance awareness about AfCFTA opportunities, and in supporting women cross-border traders to engage in digital trade to explore wider markets beyond their borders without their physical presence. It will also promote a favorable environment for women cross-border traders within the AfCFTA through engaging policy-makers and duty-bearers on addressing gender-specific barriers to women’s participation in cross border and regional trade.

Specifically, EASSI plans to undertake capacity building for 100 government officials from within the East African Community Partner States of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to strengthen their ability to identify gender disparities that hinder women’s participation in trade and cause policy reform for gender sensitive implementation of the AfCFTA. The project will also profile and market 30 women cross-border traders’ businesses in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan on an international trade digital platform. There will also be sensitisation of 80 women cross-border traders on the AfCFTA and their strategic positioning to explore its opportunities at the EAC borders of Isebania, Sirari, and Malaba between Uganda and Kenya, Busia between Uganda and Kenya and Mutukula between Uganda and Tanzania.

The project will additionally facilitate regional policy discourse amongst stakeholders in the EAC on addressing issues that hinder women in cross-border trade, and in turn inform AfCFTA’s implementation. This will address concerns such as those of Mariam, a woman cross-border trader in Busia who noted, ‘Women cross-border traders feel the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of regional trade policies first hand and should be at the negotiation table if they are to really gain from trade!’

Web site: https://eassi.org

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