African women key for trade in Africa

African women play a crucial role in trade in Africa, says the World Bank, and for the continent’s success in exploiting its trade potential their valuable contribution must be encouraged.

The potential for trade with the global market and within Africa itself is enormous. If exploited properly it would reduce dependence on the exports of a few mineral products.

Trade can provide African countries with energy and food security, more jobs for their growing populations, reduce poverty and “promote a shared prosperity”.

The World Bank report – Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential – explains that African women make a significant contribution to trade in their countries; they are involved in many sectors of the economy, especially the production of tradeable products, as owners and managers of trading firms, and as cross-border traders.

The Director of the Department of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs, World Bank Africa Region, Marcelo M. Giugale said:

“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.”

African women – their role must be recognized

The World Bank calls on all governments to recognize the major role African women play in trade. This should be communicated to officials at all levels. African governments are urged to make sure that all legislation regarding trade is “clear, transparent and widely available at the border”.

Regulatory requirements, where possible, need to be simplified, and their documents too. Interventions designed to enhance trade must be designed in ways that make sure women benefit.

Although donors and governments are clearly trying hard to facilitate trade and improve productivity, especially in export-oriented sectors, there is a lack of focus on making sure that African women who participate in trade benefit too.

The World Bank also asks government and donors to “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.”

African women involved in many sectors of the economy

In a large number of African countries most small farmers are female. They produce rice, cotton, cassava, maize and other crops. These agricultural products have huge potential for greater trade within Africa and beyond.

Across borders, women are involved in health and professional services and education. “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.”

African women face constraints

Women in Africa are currently unable to help the continent reach its full trade potential because of the constraints they face. Women’s contribution to trade is nowhere near what it could be because of a range of specific non-tariff barriers that particularly affect the activities of female traders and business owners.

Faced with these overwhelming obstacles, many female producers and traders end up in the informal economy where access to regulated finance, information and networks is lacking, making it much harder for their businesses to develop and grow.

The TradeMark East Africa’s Private Sector and Civil Society Program aims to facilitate programs that increase awareness of the perils faced by informal cross border traders, and help establish a better trading environment.

Director of the program, Lisa Karanja said:

“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.”

African women’s contribution to trade and the challenges they face are often overlooked by policy makers, partly because there is a lack of information readily available about women and trade. Small traders and farmers are under-represented in trade and trade policy discussions.

Paul Brenton, Editor of the report and World Bank Africa Trade Practice Leader, said:

“The aim of this book is to make available new analysis on the participation of women in trade in Africa to a wide audience. It highlights the key role that women will play in achieving Africa’s potential in trade.

In addition to raising the profile of this public policy issue, we also hope that it will encourage more research and analysis over a wider range of African countries and so extend the knowledge base.”