Africa’s informal sector accounts for 85% of the continent’s economic activity with women accounting for 90% of the informal sector’s labour force.
However, women who engage in cross-border trade face issues of harassment, violence. Confiscation of goods, delays at borders, bribery and corruption.
These barriers often push women traders and producers into the informal economy where lack of access to finance, information and adequate training jeopardizes their capacity to grow and develop their businesses.
With the commencement of the trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the stakes are very high to expand business prospects for women in order to unlock their potential to grow their businesses from micro to macro enterprises.
It is for this reason why ECOWAS has collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to host a three-day capacity building workshop for women SMEs in Accra to build their export capacity for formal and informal service suppliers.
Since AfCFTA is a major tool to transform African economies, this transformation can be accelerated if women and gender issues are made central and incorporated in National AfCFTA strategy documents for implementation, Mrs. Kosi Yankey-Ayeh, CEO of the Ghana Enterprises Agency (GEA), former NBSSI, told the assembled participants.
AfCFTA is crafted for the micro, small, medium enterprises as well as, for the large corporations, whether regional or multinational. Micro, small and medium enterprises predominate cross-border trade and it is reckoned that up to 40% of cross-border trade is by this segment of economic operators.
Hence, they must be enabled to operate unhindered within the legal instruments in the agreement. Africa’s trade potential is undermined by constraints encountered by women, particularly informal trading.
Additionally, since the informal sector represents a significant component of the economies of ECOWAS member states, this capacity building exercise jointly organized by UNDP and ECOWAS is pertinent for taking advantage of the opportunities under the Pan-African free trade area.
Women is particular find it challenging to access finance to expand their operations but we are confident that with the capacity-building programmes will give women the requisite skills to grow their operations from micro to macro enterprises.
Additionally, west African women traders on average are less informed on trade rules and regulations and have concerns about border security. These capacity building programmes fills that void that is why we believe its importance cannot be downplayed.