Unleashing informal cross-border women traders potential

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Addis Ababa, 3 March 2014 (WIC) - Women informal cross-border traders suffer from invisibility, stigmatization, violence and harassment as well as poor working conditions and lack of recognition of their economic contribution.
This was made public at the launching of 'Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential' report the World Bank co-hosted at the Bank's headquarters yesterday. By ignoring women's informal trading activities, African countries are neglecting the significant proportion of their trade.
The Bank's Volume launched on the occasion confirms that a vast majority of women trades would like to grow and develop their business away from the informal sector.
The study also indicates that poor women traders cross border throughout Africa every day and make a major economic contribution to the continent. Estimates suggest that informal cross-border trade contributes substantially to the economies of many African countries and is a source of income for about 43 per cent of the total African population.
In southern Africa, informal cross-border trade is believed to reach 30—40 per cent total recorded formal trade between countries in the region, entailing some 20 billion USD per year, amounting to almost half of total development assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.
A range of studies throughout the continent confirm that the majority of informal cross-border traders are women. These traders play a key role in food security, bringing basic food products from areas where they are relatively cheap to areas where they are in short supply. The income they earn from these activities are critical to their households, often making the difference, for example, in whether children go to school or not.
Informal cross-border trade in the Great Lakes region between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda and between South Sudan and Uganda is likely to be several times larger than officially recorded trade flows.
Women traders often face poor conditions and harassment when crossing the border. Indeed, in a recent survey of trade in the Great Lakes , more than 80 per cent of traders reported having to give bribe to cross the border. Worse, more than half had suffered from physical harassment and abuse, including beating, verbal insults, stripping, sexual harassment , and even rape.
According to UNWOMEN, women informal cross-border traders keep African markets going. Empowering women informal cross-border traders will have multiplier effect on poverty reduction, employment creation, and intra-African trade and regional integration, it said and urged governments, regional economic communities and development partners to enhance their opportunities to benefit from regional trading agreements.
UNWOMEN representative also said that women informal cross-borders are key economic actors and their activities should be viewed as continuum of the formal sector. Support to women informal cross-border traders should be prioritized in National Development Plans and trade for trade assistance.
Lack of awareness of trade laws and proper documents, sexual harassment, access to finance, market networkings are among the challenges facing women informal cross-border traders.
Ethiopian women entrepreneurs who attended the event said that access to finance from local banks is critical, impeding their firms to grow and develop.
Representative from AU said that the AU adopted a number of initiatives and declarations towards African trade. Putting the enormous policies and programmes together is key to bring about the desired outcome at the issue.
The volume recommends, among others, that governments need to put in place clear trade documents and regulations, design interventions to develop trade in ways that ensure women benefit and help women address the risks they face in their trade-related activities. It also stressed the need for incorporating the issue of informality in mainstream trade policy making and to strengthening the notion that women informal traders are also important clients of ministries of trade and regional economic communities.

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