Women Are Key to Achieving Africa’s trading potential

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African countries have enormous potential for trade with the global market and for more intensive trade among themselves. Regional trade in Africa can play a vital role in diversifying economies and reducing dependence on the export of a few mineral products, in delivering food and energy security, in generating jobs for the increasing numbers of young people, and in alleviating poverty and promoting a shared prosperity.

The new volume–Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential–demonstrates how women play a key role in trade in Africa and will be essential to Africa’s success in exploiting its trade potential. Women make a major contribution to trade in most African countries through their involvement in the production of tradable goods as cross-border traders and as managers and owners of firms involved in trade.

According to Marcelo M. Giugale, Director, Department of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs, World Bank Africa Region, “Removing the three main obstacles to regional trade integration in Africa–misregulation, monopolies and corruption–would be particularly beneficial for poor women, as they literally carry most of the small-scale, cross-border commerce that happens within the Region. The potential benefits are huge and obvious: better food security, faster job creation, more poverty reduction, and less gender discrimination. This is a win-win-win-win reform agenda that is ready for action.”

The main messages from the volume call for Governments to recognize the role that women play in trade and ensure this is communicated to officials at all levels; Government should ensure that the rules and regulations governing trade are clear, transparent and widely available at the border. It is important to simplify documents and regulatory requirements where possible. In addition, it is essential to design interventions to develop trade in ways that ensure that women benefit.

Governments and donors are making concerted efforts to facilitate trade, to increase productivity in export-oriented sectors, and to improve competitiveness. But these need to be better targeted to ensure that women who participate in trade are reached by these interventions and that it is not just men who benefit. Finally, help women address the risks they face in their trade-related activities given that they are typically more risk averse than men and respond to risk in different ways.

In many countries in Africa, the majority of small farmers are women, and they produce crops such as maize, cassava, cotton, and rice that have enormous potential for increased trade between African countries and with the global market. Women are also involved in providing services across borders, such as education, health, and professional services, including accountancy and legal services. Hundreds of thousands of women cross borders in Africa every day to deliver goods from areas where they are relatively cheap to areas in which they are in shorter supply.

However, Africa’s trade potential is undermined by constraints that women face. The contribution of women to trade is much less than it could be because of various specific nontariff barriers that impinge particularly heavily on the trade activities of women and women-owned enterprises. These barriers often push women traders and producers into the informal economy where lack of access to finance, information, and networks jeopardize their capacity to grow and develop their business.

In its goal to ensure the equitable distribution of the benefits of integration, and specifically to empower women traders, TradeMark East Africa’s Private Sector and Civil Society Program facilitates programming to increase awareness of the challenges of informal cross border traders and build up knowledge and advocacy for a better trading environment.

Lisa Karanja, Director of the program states that “... these and other deterrent conditions prevent women from taking full advantage of the opportunities created by trade and thus undermine the aspirations of countries in Africa to use trade as a driver of growth, employment, and poverty reduction.”

Yet, policy makers typically overlook women’s contribution to trade and the challenges they face. This neglect reflects, in part, the lack of data and information on women and trade in Africa and also the underrepresentation of small traders and rural producers in trade and trade policy discussions. This volume looks at the ways that women participate in trade in Africa, the constraints they face, and the impact of those constraints.

About author

Kemi Wale-Olaitan

Kemi is a retired broadcaster from the service of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; while in service, she had her interest in women issues and had interviews with several notable women in the course of her duty as a producer in the service of the Federal government. Her interest in broadcasting was informed by her creative writing prowess; she has been very active in creative writing since her undergraduate days, and she has written a few fictional works in form of short stories and novel. Some of her short stories have appeared in anthologies of Short stories. Kemi was also very active in the establishment of the Women Writers Association of Nigeria (WRITA) and she served on its first Executive Council.

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