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Why free trade area pact is a concern for women

Why free trade area pact is a concern for women

Standard Media | 10th February 2023

By Henry Neondo

While women dominate small scale traders who ply their trade across national borders in Africa, there are many who thrive doing cross border trade via illegal routes.

Take the case of Mrs Namungodi Nasimiyu, 45, whose panya (shortcut) routes have proved better ways of moving goods from her country Uganda into Kenya. Panya routes are unofficial routes small-scale traders prefer to use while transporting their goods from one country to another in East Africa.

“Such routes help us avoid official border entry points that tend to have long, winding procedures, delays and numerous fees, which eat into our profit margins,” says Nasimiyu, obviously aware that her preferred ways are illegal and can attract penalties if she is caught by the police or Kenya Revenue Authority officials.

Challenges faced by women small scale traders like Nasimiyu in Busia and Mama Aisha of Tanga in Tanzania will inform discussions at the gender is my agenda campaign (GIMAC) side event in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia beginning Monday.

The meeting will be held ahead of the annual African Heads of Government and State Summit beginning from February 16-18. GIMAC event will bring together leading gender voices, who include former First Ladies, ministers, and experts from various fields of specialties in Africa to spotlight the place of women like mama Mbogas, as they are known in Kenya, in the planned move towards the continental free trade area.

Arguably, the most important trade-related issue currently taking place on the continent, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) proposes a free trade area among all 55 African Union nations. It is an ambitious trade pact to form the world’s largest free trade area by creating a single market for goods and services of almost 1.3 billion people across Africa and deepening the economic integration of Africa.

Initially requiring members to remove tariffs from 90 per cent of goods, AfCFTA would allow free access to commodities, goods, and services. AfCFTA also includes a protocol on the free movement of people.

Big economic possibilities aside, what exactly does the planned move by the African Governments portend for women’s participation in cross-border markets and trade?

Feminist economic analysis by The African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) demonstrates the gendered dimensions of all economic policies.

According to the analysis, every policy options by governments affect women and men differently.

“It is thus imperative to simulate major transitions like trade liberalisation envisaged by the AfCFTA mean for women like Nasimiyu,” says Memory Kachambwa, the Executive Director of the FEMNET and a pan-African feminist, gender and women’s rights activist.

She notes that the process of trade liberalisation leads to dislocations within national economies, as markets are opened up to free trade and this impacts the lives of women due to gender inequalities in access to and control of economic and social resources, decision-making, and gendered divisions of labour.

At the very basic, while laudable, trade liberalisation has been shown to reduce female capacities and control over household incomes and spending, depending on whether it creates or destroys sources of independent income for women.

This impact on gendered power dynamics at the household level, as well as having wider nutrition, health, and educational implications.

Women’s unpaid care work – often three to four times that of men – is also impacted because of the dislocations that result from liberalisation. In 2019, Equileap published a report on gender equality in Kenya, finding that on average, women earn 32 per cent less than their male counterparts, compared to 23 per cent globally.

Of concern to women is that beyond a promise of enhanced opportunities on the back of increased trade, there is still no comprehensive understanding of how they will really fare under the arrangement of AfCFTA.

A peep across most African countries provide some synopsis of what awaits women when border restrictions are lifted.

In Kenya, for example, where the last population census show women making about 51 per cent of the country’s population, only about 30 per cent of registered businesses are women-owned. Worse, their inclusion in financial markets is dismal, making it hard to access financial services to boost and grow their enterprises.

A more systemic bottleneck for Kenyan women is that less than 10 per cent of land holdings are in the hands of women, and thus most lack title deeds, a key document that unlocks access to financial services.

In 2019 a Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs gave a rosy picture for women enterprises in Uganda, but the same also acknowledged that women in the East African country operate in the less developed financial markets and are exposed to a lack of knowledge assets, financial access and support for entrepreneurs.

Fatimah Kelleher, author of the pan African Feminist analysis of the AfCFTA noted that women not only contribute to the economies of their countries but, “a calculus of costs and benefits that focuses only on paid work and marketed outputs will always disadvantage women who have been assigned special responsibilities for unpaid work and production”.

Indeed, there is great hope and expectation that the AfCFTA agreement will bring huge opportunities for women’s economic empowerment in terms of increased jobs and incomes.

 Fuente: Standard Media