Cross border women traders are crying foul they are yet to benefit from the regional integration.
The cross border women traders from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda echoed their concerns at the regional meeting on women informal cross border traders in the EAC region held in Ntinda in Kampala on Friday.
The one day workshop that attracted over 30 cross border women from the five EAC partner states also urged government to consider including women in the regional integration process.
"We need to see that our women who constitute the bigger percentage of the cross border trade benefit from the regional integration. They are still barriers such as high tariffs, sexual harassment at the borders and confiscation of their goods by customs officials and police," said Henritta Kikambi the secretary General Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
She noted that UNCCI had partnered with the Eastern African Sub regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) to help women form associations to tackle the related trade barriers.
Christine Nankubuge the EASSI program director pointed out that the EAC governments committed themselves to boosting trade among the women in the region. "We want the voices of the cross border traders to come out. We want to know how the regional integration is helping them bolster their trade," she said.
She said despite the coming into force of the Common Market Protocol, majority of cross border women traders still use ungazetted border crossing routes (panya) while trading.
She said the EAC common market should provide a basis for mainstreaming the needs and freedoms and rights of women within the region.
Beatrice Kimambo the Tanzania National Cross Border Women Traders Association president said though the treaty suggested a five year grace period for tax free cross border trade, police and customs officials were ignorant of these provisions.
"At the border they don't know anything about the customs Union. You either pay cash, sexually or your goods are confiscated," she said.
Scovia Karangwa, the Vice President Rwandan Cross border Women Association said the issue of lack of tax harmonization among the EAC states was a challenge to the effective implementation of the regional integration.
"Some of the women traders are still ignorant about the common market and existing laws. They need more sensitization on how to benefit from the integration," said Karangwa.
Godfrey Oundo the National Regional chairperson Cross border Traders Association said cross border women are key to bolstering regional trade.
"These women need protection from harsh operating environment. The cross border women constitute over 65 percent of the regional trade but they are not recognized,' he said.
He noted as unfortunate that many years into coming in force of the Common Market protocol, many of the women still face many challenges while conducting the cross border trade.
Hajjati Hadijja Serwanga the chairperson of the Uganda Women Cross Boarder Traders Association described the sanitation at the border points as pathetic.
Serwanga pointed out that the women cross boarder traders are sexually harassed, charged prohibitive taxes by customs officials and tortured at the boarder points because they don't understand the customs union.
"Majority of our traders are illiterate, they don't understand the language used in the common market protocol. We are asked for $100 each time we cross the border with our goods such acts forces most women to evade the official border points" she said.