Andile Tshuma, Gender Correspondent
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into effect finally on January 1 this year. There is so much talk already about how it presents opportunities for Africa’s growth.
Little has been said about the implications of AfCFTA on men and women, bringing the need to look at it from a gendered lens.
Changes in trade patterns and volumes owing to change in trade policies have a varying impact on men and women.
It is also important to highlight that the trade effects on women themselves also vary as they are not a homogenous group.
Women play multiple roles in economies as tax payers, traders, producers, workers and as providers of care for the entire labour force.
The AfCFTA presents expanded markets and it is through trade liberalisation that opportunities will be created for women to integrate into global supply chains including high value chains across different industries.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our food systems and is threatening food security. This therefore calls for policy makers to address the existing gender inequalities within the agricultural sector and avert a looming food crisis. AfCFTA presents opportunities to engage women in Agriculture to ensure that no nation or family goes hungry despite the raging pandemic.
The AfCFTA must not just be looked at as a trade agreement and something for corporates and industry, it must be viewed as an instrument for development intended to lift 100 million Africans out of poverty by 2035.
The AfCFTA presents immense opportunities to tap into the talents of young Africans and women to ensure inclusive benefits.
To ensure its success as one of the greatest developments of the 21st century on the continent, the AfCFTA must be inclusive in design and implementation.
Women and youth are key stakeholders in Africa’s economic development. The informal sector accounts for an estimated 85 percent of Africa’s total economic activity, with women accounting for 90 percent of the labour force in the informal sector and 70 percent of informal traders.
Women are already actively involved in intra-Africa trade. For decades, Zimbabwean women have been travelling to countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi Mozambique and others to sell wares from Zimbabwe such as handmade crafts and ornaments, decorative pieces such as doilies (amadoyili) and even amacimbi. From these African countries, Zimbabwean women have been bringing wares for resale such as spices, herbal remedies, pots, cutlery, linen, curtains, clothes, as well as cosmetics.
This shows that they have already been doing it, it is nothing new to them, but they must be empowered and capacitated to do more, to formalise their trade and to manage their hustle more as a business.
Other women are going as far as Dubai to order items for resale in the country and therefore to make AfCFTA more lucrative and attractive, women and the youth in business and cross-border trade must be incentivised through special policies that will make them want to do business within Africa, so as to make AfCFTA make meaningful sense to them and their hustle.
Another opportunity for young women and youth in general, is that Africa is the youngest continent, with 60 percent of the population under the age of 25.
There are boundless opportunities for women and the youth to benefit in the intra-Africa trade, which is the main goal of AfCFTA.
The current level of intra-trade on the continent stands at 18 percent and this means that African nations are trading more with other continents than within the continent, which is a downside and the resources should be circulating within and developing the continent.
While the mantra is on intra-trade, it is inevitable that Africa will still continue to outsource some wares that are not locally available and some people in business will continue going outside of Africa to import wares for resale.
Women and youths in this business must not be discouraged but should also be given special incentives and support to ensure that whenever they go out to order stuff for resale back home, they are not going empty handed but are leaving the country with a piece of Zimbabwe to sell to the world.
A good example of how women have been exporting is the Lupane Women’s Centre. They have been consistent in their basketry business and have exported far and wide across Europe and as far as Australia.
Policy makers should engage in research on how to invest in the many women who import from outside of Africa, on how their business models can be remodelled to ensure that they also bring in the much needed foreign currency to the country through exports.
For instance, they can be exempt from taxes and levies through a special tax arrangement if they prove that for every $1 spent on imports, at least 50 percent of it was recovered through exporting something from Zimbabwe.
Women must be deeply engaged in cross-border trade, they must have access to finance, production network as well as markets.
Women must also be empowered to access virtual markets and to participate in e-commerce.
They must understand the needs of other African markets to ensure that their products and services are better tailored to consumers in the respective countries.
Women must also be empowered to understand and make use of the power of strategic partnerships so as to maximise on the potential of their business ventures. This will make it easier for them to access foreign markets as these partnerships will facilitate that.
The AfCFTA could lead the continent to closing the gender wage gap as it will open up work and business opportunities for more people, which will in turn open up vacancies for more men and women who will work for equal opportunity employers.
Women and the youth will also benefit from employment opportunities created in the health, agriculture, education and tertiary sectors.
In order for Zimbabwean women to reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA, they must have access to information and training opportunities on business and trade networks and they must have a voice in the AfCFTA negotiations, decision and policy making.
The AfCFTA must not be something way up there but must be understandable to every woman, especially women with interest in business.
The communication on AfCFTA must be done in such a way that it reaches out even to the less educated women with passion for business and must be communicated in non-complicated language that has been simplified for people from all walks of life to understand.
Information centres must be available and approachable and information on training must be made readily available through communication channels accessible to most people without much barriers such as cost.
Zimbabwean women and youths have always been assertive, Zimbabweans are known far and wide on the continent to be hard workers and to be business minded. They have made inroads to various parts of Africa as traders as well as professionals in various fields.
The AfCFTA presents new opportunities for women in business to take their businesses to higher levels in order for the prosper and excel.
Zimbabwean women have already shown that they can do it, they have been crossing borders doing business, all they need now are policies and support from Government and policy makers to make more out of their business ventures and to ensure that they are formalised so that the country and economy can also benefit from their hustle.
It is important to look at AfCFTA from a gender lens, to ensure its success. – @andile_tshuma.