Pro-women trade policy can boost African economies, meeting told

24 January 2014

Inequality between men and women in Africa leads to economic inefficiency and under-performance, UNCTAD and World Bank experts said at an event examining the role of women in trade and development on the continent.


Policy-makers do not often adequately recognize the role that women played in trade and overlooked the distinct impact that trade and trade policy may have on women and men. They also often lacked the data and analysis needed to design trade measures that are more responsive to the special needs of women.

The session on 'Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential' on 20 January was jointly organized by the World Bank, UNCTAD and the International Trade Centre (ITC), and moderated by ITC Executive Director Arancha González.

From left: Simonetta Zarrilli (UNCTAD), Paul Brenton (World Bank)
Petko Draganov (UNCTAD) and Arancha González (ITC)

"For growth and development to be sustainable, it must be inclusive and equitable, and therefore address the needs of women and other neglected segments of society," said Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD Petko Draganov.

"The inclusion of a gender perspective in the design and implementation of macro-economic policies, including trade policy, is a way to give substance and meaning to the commitments that countries have taken on gender equality and women's empowerment," Mr. Draganov added.

Participants heard that there is enormous potential for African countries to increase their trade regionally and globally and women could play a key role in exploiting this potential if the obstacles they face are recognized and addressed. Trade also can serve as a powerful tool for women's empowerment and inclusive development in Africa.

Women cross-border traders face substantial risks, including extortion, the confiscation of goods, and suffering verbal abuse and acts of violence, Paul Brenton, Trade Practice Leader at the World Bank, said in a presentation at the event.

As many as 85 percent of women cross-border traders reported being forced to pay bribes, a 2010 survey taken at border posts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda showed, Mr. Brenton said. He added that the World Bank had developed and was piloting a Charter for Cross Border Trade on the border between Malawi and Zambia to ensure that cross-border trade took place smoothly and according to the law.

By looking at a number of country experiences, experts from the World Bank and UNCTAD highlighted that inequality in incomes and employment opportunities, and restricted access to productive resources, services, training, market information and market networks remained persistent problems for women in Africa. This was despite the notable improvements in female participation in education and political activities that have been recorded in the same countries.

Moreover, experts noted that trade integration did not automatically reduce existing gender disparities. Designing policies to recognize this should be a key priority in setting the global agenda for trade and development after 2015, stressed Ms. González.

Simonetta Zarrilli, chief of Trade, Gender and Development at UNCTAD said that there was a need for coherence among policies and stressed that increased spending on health, sanitation, transport and other public services would free women's time and allow them to devote more time to education or to productive activities.

Other positive measures discussed included establishing innovative financing models to improve women's access to credit and promoting women's cooperatives to rationalize the use of land and enhance efficiency. Product differentiation strategies that would give more value to products manufactured by women could also play a role.