Women voice out concerns in AFCFTA for AU Heads’ Summit 

(Last Updated On: 16 February 2023)

Removal of non-tariff barriers, creation of financial policies responsive to women and linkage between trade, peace and security in fragile states are factors heads of state must address as they meet in Addis Ababa to discuss the African Continental Free Trade Area 

According to The African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET), a key player in the ‘Gender is my Agenda Campaign’ steering committee, many affirmative actions that need consideration by the African Heads of Government still pend. 

The GIMAC committee notes that whereas the political will seems promising, the implementation has been slow and shifty. 

“We must address all the trade barriers to realize the change that we have been demanding for so long. Our words are not just mere sentiments for people to react on whenever it is convenient,” said, Memory Kachambwa, the Executive Director of FEMNET.

While speaking at a high-level panel, Kachambwa insisted that AfCTFA needs to look at the socio-economic barriers that look beyond trade because of the cross-cutting issues that also affect trade in general. 

She said, “If we had an eco-system of starts ups to help African women jumpstart their businesses with reliable capital, we would be a step ahead.”

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a key project in the implementation of the AU Agenda 2063; The Africa We Want. The negotiations started in June 2015 with the agreement entering into force in May 2019. As of November 2021, the AfCFTA has been signed by all African countries, except Eritrea.

Maria Andrea Echaz from the UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, said the inclusion of women and girls in the AFCFTA processes must be central. 

She said the role of women who make up the majority of the informal economy, agriculture, and cross-border trade in trade in Africa remains overlooked. 

“Worse, most economic policies are drafted in gender-neutral language, which ignores the differentiated impact of policies on women,” added Echaz. 

She urged policymakers to gather and disaggregated data by gender and analyse the impact of the AfCFTA on women, design measures and trade agreements that do not lead to a rise in commercial sexual exploitation of girls and child trafficking.

“We know that in the informal economy made up of women yet their urgency and intellectual might are often overshadowed! Unless this is amended it may be challenging for Africans to realize their full potential,” said Munnira Katangole, a 19-year-old gender activist.

The AfCFTA is designed to boost intra-African trade by up to 52.3% and it is expected to expand Africa’s economy to 29 trillion dollars by 2050.

Informal and cross-border trade accounts for 70% of the economy in sub-Saharan Africa and is a source of income for 43% of Africa’s population. Women in Africa constitute 70% of the informal cross-border traders.

However, according to Lina Asimwe from the Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative (EASSI), two scenarios confront the AfCFTA, borders across stable nations where women trade with ease and those that are problematic which manifest in abrupt border closures, gun-trotting armed groups and untrained customs officials.

“Women in unstable borders often seek alternative routes to ply their trade at the risk of abuse, sexual harassment and violence. When such incidents happen, it becomes hard to track and take legal actions against perpetrators since most tend to be militias of vigilantes armed to cater for the interest of warlords in control of these borders,” she said.

Asimwe challenged the AU Heads to consider peace, reconciliation and justice as key components that would facilitate the free movement of trade, as they remain a constraint to women traders across borders.    

Liz Guantai, a legal advisor at the UN also noted that women need information on rules, which tend to differ from one country to the other, procedures as well as taxi regimes. “We must acknowledge the political is needed for positive change.”


The African Women’s Development and Communications Network is a Pan-African Feminist and membership-based network. We ensure that the voices of African women are amplified and that our needs and aspirations are prioritized in key policy dialogues and outcomes.

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