Women and cross border trade


By Mata Coulibaly

The gender inequalities in transport sector slow the growth and the progress of poverty reduction in Africa. Disregarding gender diversities and not addressing differences between men and women can have a negative impact into communities and Nations’ economies and social development.

The gender inequalities in transport sector slow the growth and the progress of poverty reduction in Africa. Disregarding gender diversities and not addressing differences between men and women can have a negative impact into communities and Nations’ economies and social development.Transport infrastructures development, especially cross-border post, needs women involvement by considering their practical need and strategic interest as part of the society. Women constitute a larger proportion of those who practice the small scale cross border trade working with very little capital, infrastructure and rudimentary numeracy/literacy skills.


Women traders are a paradox because in despite their contributions to the regional and national GDPs of their countries and their role as drivers of the economy in Africa is undermined. Although there are no policy frameworks that specifically focus on women cross border traders as a distinctive group, there are a number of supportive policy frameworks at all levels that can be leveraged to support them at the Global (CEDAW/MDG3/Beijing Platform for Action), continental (AU Solemn declaration on gender Equality/Decade of the African Women/AU Gender Policy Action Plan/Protocol to Charter on Human and people’s Rights on the rights of Women in Africa), Regional (ECOWAS Gender Action Plan) and National levels (Gender Action Plans in Member states).

An ILO study in 2002 showed that trade is the source of employment for self-employed women of Sub-Saharan Africa providing 60% of non-agricultural self-employment, with the informal cross border trade contributing up to 30-40% to intra-SADC Trade with 70% of informal cross border traders being women. Indeed Women play an important role in cross-border trade and are involved in sale of a certain profitable good like fruits, vegetables, maize product, beans, peanuts, millet, vegetable, fish, cooking oil, cosmetics, clothes… But women are facing a lot of problem such exclusions due to their very low level of education in cross-border trade. The majority of them did not reach the primary level.

The study carried out by UN Women, of the 2000 women informal cross border traders surveyed in 2007-2009 in Cameroon, Liberia, Mali, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the majority stated that: the proceeds from their activities is the main source of income for the family.  The women traders use their income to buy food and other items for the household, pay for school fees, health care services and rent. Cross-border trade can allow women to earn a steady income and improve their live hoods by providing them with financing opportunities.This contribution will focus on (i) Problem facing women in cross-border trade and (ii) How to address their problems.

Problem facing women in cross-border sector However, in Africa, women play a significant role in small-scale cross-border trade in comparison to men. For example, a study on small-scale trade in the Great Lakes Region of Africa found that 74% of the trade at border crossings that were surveyed was performed by women. But also, “informal cross-border trade is very important to Africa in general and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in particular. It contributes to economic growth, job creation and food security for the majority of the region’s population. Some 43% of Africans are involved in this form of commercial activity, with women representing the lion’s share – around 75% – of the sector.

Women try to avoid heavy formal or informal taxation, the amounts of which vary from one country to another. In addition to seeking to evade taxes imposed by governments, traders also try to avoid administrative formalities in areas such as health, agriculture, security and immigration, which are perceived as costly, complex and time consuming.The average star-up capital was $28.86 for women and $36, 52 for men. This can be explained by two mains factors:1. 1. Women have less access to household resources and other networks that provide capital; 2. Women mostly trade in foodstuffs, which cost less and yield lower returns [4].

While, lot of traders are head of the family, spouse or other. A study showed that 59% of traders were head of their family and looked after the needs of the household.Lack of training in cooperative management and access to finance are two challenges facing women in trade sector. Most of the capital used by them is taken from household resources. The other source of capital is loans from family and friend.Most association or cooperatives of women traders are organised informally according to trade sector vegetables, clothes, fruit…

and there is no coordination between the different structures but also there are sometimes tensions between them.It is suitable to give importance to cross-border trade for survival of households, and therefore to fight against poverty in Africa countries.Women cross border traders also fall victim to robbers, extortion, bribery, some are raped, and stigmatized as prostitutes or smugglers and unfortunately some being killed for their goods or money.  In addition, delays at the border, restriction and confiscation of goods, harassment and also lack or poor sanitation facilities posing a great health risk.Laub et al.

stated that women due to the low levels of illiteracy rate among the women traders, they face problems of reading the customs forms and getting a good understanding of the procedures they might also not have an understating of the policies promoting micro-traders hence end up paying high undue informal taxes or running the risk of being exploited by custom officials asking them for favors.  This leads to them being sexually harassed.

Women cross border traders also are vulnerable to the HIV and Aids pandemic due to the time they spend at the borders, unavailability of affordable accommodation and transport and limited access to health care services. On the health risk, some are falling victims’ malaria, yellow fever……..

How to address problem facing women into cross-border trade sectorAddressing problems facing women in cross-border trade sector will contribute to attend the Axis 1 of Africa Union agenda 2063 “the achievement of an inclusive growth strategy, job creation, gender equality and empowerment of women and youth “; and the Sustainable Development Goals 1 “No poverty”, 2 “Zero hunger”, 5 ‘Gender equality”, and 8 “Decent work and economic growth”.

Women participation in transport sector should be facilitated by:· The recognition by Governments of the critical role, current and potential, played by women in the development of the economies· The respect and fair treatment of women in the course of their business activities particularly by public officials along the Corridor· Women friendly public infrastructure and facilities at border crossings· A conducive environment for growth where women working in transport sector can network, share experiences, grow their businesses, and competitively participate in value-addition corridor investments.