Enhance women participation for the success of AfCFTA

International Trade Specialist and AfCFTA Champion Rose Ronoh. [File, Standard]

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is one of the flagship projects of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 that is expected to be a key driver for the continent’s structural transformation and industrialisation.

This is as envisioned in the AU Agenda 2063’s shared road map for inclusive and sustainable growth in Africa. 

However, as the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, a major concern arose regarding women’s participation in the AfCFTA. According to various studies, fewer women than men are well prepared to take advantage of the trade and economic opportunities presented by the initiative. This is despite 75 per cent of most cross border traders in Africa being women. 

As a result, there is a need to think about implementation in a way that increases women’s economic participation and helps them integrate more fully into high-paying sectors of the economy.

As of January this year, 41 countries had ratified the AfCFTA agreement, including Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. 

The main goal of the AfCFTA is to create a single market for goods and services, facilitated by the movement of persons to deepen the continent’s economic integration.  This is consistent with the Pan African Vision of “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa” enshrined in the AU’s Agenda 2063. It is intended to “promote the attainment of sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality, and structural transformation of the State Parties.” 

This is an acknowledgement that gender mainstreaming in the AfCFTA is improving women’s capacity to participate in the economic and trade opportunities provided by the AfCFTA agreements and is critical to the transformation of the African continent.

Additionally, the introduction of the women and youth protocol to the AfCFTA is a positive move that appreciates the unique challenges faced by women traders in Africa, which include lack of information, lack of access to capital, poor and uninclusive trade policies and a multiplicity of non-tariff barriers. 

The East African Community (EAC), for its part, has demonstrated that it recognises the important role of women in regional integration and that gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to the EAC’s mandate and approach to development.

In this regard, the EAC adopted the Gender Policy in 2018, which provides a “framework to accelerate the realisation of gender equality, gender fairness, non-discrimination and fundamental rights in East Africa.” 

The policy framework is a tool for advancing East Africa’s political and social-economic integration, ensuring that gender issues are included on the EAC agenda, accelerating gender mainstreaming, contributing to higher living standards, and enhancing East African people’s efforts to play their rightful role in a globalised world. 

The gender policy has prioritised policy actions such as improving gender analysis in macroeconomic policy formulation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, strengthening gender mainstreaming in national economic processes, among others. 

The EAC is also working on developing a joint implementation strategy for the AfCFTA that takes into consideration gender inclusivity.

And with assistance from GIZ, the EAC convened a regional workshop to deliberate gender mainstreaming of the AfCFTA and initiatives to be included in the women and youth protocol, including the simplified trade regime. 

Regrettably, and despite significant integration developments in the EAC and the potential of the AfCFTA agreement in transforming lives on the African continent, awareness levels and knowledge on how to take advantage of the agreement have been very low amongst private sector players, who are the agreement’s primary beneficiaries. Women in the EAC have even lower levels of awareness and knowledge. 

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