UN, AfCFTA, Government support women cross border traders
16 July 2021
UN, Government host national consultative dialogue aimed at collecting views from women cross border traders as part of AfCFTA implementation
The United Nations in Eswatini, Deputy Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Commerce facilitated a national consultative dialogue aimed at collecting views from women cross border traders in Kingdom.
The virtual dialogue, which attracted about 70 participants from the government, development partners, UN Agencies and businesswomen was aimed at kickstarting the consultations in Eswatini. Eswatini is among the 54 of the 55 countries in the African continent that have ratified the AfCFTA.
The AfCFTA will open markets in critical sectors in which women are engaged, such as agriculture, manufacturing (clothing and textiles), and services, including tourism and other business services. To ensure that the promise for women yields its fruits, the AfCFTA secretariat partnered with UNDP and UNWomen to provide technical support to incorporate views of women cross border traders to inform the development of the Protocol on Women and Trade. Beyond the national consultations, the collaboration between the secretariat and the UN will also facilitate capacity building, and advocacy to ensure that the AfCFTA works for Africa’s women and youth.
In her opening remarks, the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Eswatini, Ms. Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, said the process of collecting views from the traders is critical to ensure that the women define the Protocol on Women in Trade.
She noted that despite the potential of the cross-border trade, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the systemic inequalities within societies, striking the economy and vulnerable populations the hardest. “We know, for example, that the introduction of lockdown measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, resulted in most informal sector activities being halted, particularly affecting women who own 65% of the businesses,” she said.
She also said the recent civil unrests, both in Eswatini and in the Republic of South Africa, which resulted in violent protests and looting, have had a negative impact on the informal sector, and have seriously jeopardised cross border trade. “Such developments justify our investment in a Protocol for Women under the AFCFTA, as this instrument seeks to enhance the ability of women and youth to harness the benefits of the AfCFTA while mitigating the adverse effects of cross border trade,” said Ms. Ndongo-Seh.
In his welcome remarks, Principal Secretary at the DPMO, Mr. Makhosini Mndawe, noted that the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini is committed to the empowerment of women as demonstrated by the development of major frameworks to guide the implementation of women’s economic empowerment initiatives.
The National Gender Policy, 2010 which has a specific thematic area on Economic empowerment of women;
50 Million African Women Speak Digital Platform- which also provides an enabling environment for trade in the COMESA region
Adoption of the Financial Inclusion Strategy that facilitates easy access to financial assistance for trade
Establishment of Federation of Association of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa (FEMCOM)
Adoption of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME Policy), among others.
“All these initiatives are geared towards the empowerment of women and youth to harness the demographic dividend as our interventions are guided by Agenda 2030, Agenda 2063, COMESA Social Charter, and many more,” said Mr. Mndawe.
He also mentioning that the Government is honoured by the African Union to host the Regional Office of Strategic importance, i.e the Ae-trade Regional Office to facilitate the implementation of a continental e-commerce platform and associated services as an enabler for digital transformation and boosting intra-African trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area.
“May I encourage women to take advantage of such forums created for their economic advancement,” said Mndawe, adding: “I also encourage women to continue with the registration on the 5O Million African Women Speak Platform for continuous interaction with other women in business across borders, mentorship programmes, peer to peer learning as well as information sharing.”
The dialogue presented an opportunity for the women in cross border trade to share their experiences. FEMCOM chairperson who is also a Member of Parliament highlighted the lack of access to finance and the impact of COVID-19 as key challenges women traders are currently facing. She was complemented by the chairperson of the Cross Border Trade, Ms. Thobile Dube, who said traders face many non-trade barriers ranging from harassment and corruption at the borders, to lack of medical attention when they’re in other countries in the SADC Region, language barriers and a general lack of safety, which the Protocol aims to address.
“If we face these barriers in the SADC Region, how worse will the situation be when we now start trading Africa-wide?” she asked.
UNWomen representative Ms Kgothatso Semela underscored the need for the national consultations to promote deeper awareness of the experiences of women in cross border trade across themes addressing Access to information, Access to support for utilizing deals and market opportunities in the AfCFTA, Access to affordable financing and trade facilitation measures. This was also emphasized by Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu a representative from AeTrade Group who highlighted the importance of understanding the gender-trade nexus and ensuring that the Protocol addresses it.