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For the first time in an African trade agreement, the achievement of gender equality is explicitly stated as an objective of international trade in the AfCFTA’s General Objectives. The agreement includes two gender-related provisions in the AfCFTA’s protocols. Article 4 of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons provides that “States Parties shall not discriminate against nationals of another Member State entering, residing or established in their territory, on the basis of their […] sex”. This legally binding undertaking stands out since no other trade agreement or side-agreement prohibits discrimination based on sex for the free movement of persons in such explicit terms. Article 27 (2) (d) of the Protocol on Trade in Services states that State Parties are mandated to: “improve the export capacity of both formal and informal service suppliers, with particular attention to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; women and youth service suppliers”.

The AfCFTA provisions on customs cooperation should benefit small scale traders by a new regulated regime on trade permits, visas and small consignment orders. Equally new tariff rules should mitigate some of the issues around corruption. This will all help to reduce trade friction for small-scale and informal cross-border traders.

The AfCFTA alone will not improve the lives of women, however the initiatives enabled and boosted by its implementation, done right, will lead to tangible gains. The Boosting Intra-African Trade Action Plan (BIAT) is essential for the AfCFTA to succeed. Its focus on trade facilitation, improvement of trade infrastructure and trade financing to small-scale operations will benefit those engaging in cross-border trade.

The World Bank also suggest that with a thorough implementation of the AfCFTA and the Trade Facilitation Agreement of the WTO women’s wages could grow by as much as 10% continent wide. This is expected to be a faster increase than for men, in part because there is expected to be an expansion of labour intensive industries such as textile manufacturing, which disproportionately employs women.


Women in trade

UN Women Rwanda and the Local Administrative Entities Development Agency of Rwanda | UN Women – Africa

UN Women Rwanda and the Local Development Authority have signed a deal to provide $300,000 in unconditional cash transfers to female lead businesses across three districts in Rwanda. The vast majority of the women in Nyamasheke, Musanze and Nyagatare Districts being assisted work in cross-border trade, which was significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped this money will help restart many cross-border businesses. The improved trade facilitation under the AfCFTA should see a reduction in border delays, high costs, corruption and an increase in facilities. These will all benefit Rwanda’s female cross-border traders, when coupled with these unconditional cash transfers female-lead cross-border trade should flourish.

SheTrades Zambia

The SheTrade Zambia programme partners with Enhanced Integrated Framework to increase the participation of female-lead businesses in the Zambian economy. This project increases business visibility as well as developing capacity building skills essential to improve competitiveness in the market. These regional projects will be boosted by the AfCFTA to further improve livelihoods for women.

The AfCFTA will make it easier for SMEs to trade across borders, firstly, by providing a framework for businesses to buy materials and sell finished products in other jurisdictions. Just as importantly the AfCFTA will help facilitate the movement of goods into other markets, which has previously been difficult to do. This will help businesses establish a presence in other markets outside of their home jurisdiction.

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