East Africa: EABC Calls for Policies That Support Women Engaged in Cross-Border Trade

Regional governments have been urged to design policies that will facilitate and attract more women to engage in cross-border trade. Jim Kabeho, the East African Business Council (EABC) chairman, said this would help improve regional trade and also strengthen the East African Community (EAC) integration process, according to a statement from the organisation.

"We recognise the role of women toward increasing cross-border trade. That's why EAC governments and other stakeholders should work to create avenues that will help attract more women in cross-border business as a means of ensuring inclusiveness and equal opportunities for all regional citizens," Kabeho said during a two-day summit on women in intra-regional trade in Nairobi, Kenya.

Supported by GIZ, the summit is discussing ways of addressing challenges women face while doing business in the region, as well as mechanisms on how they can work together and benefit from opportunities presented by the regional market. The summit is part of activities to mark the EABC's 20th anniversary.

TradeMark East Africa figures indicate that 35 per cent of total businesses in the region are owned by women, while they make up 70 per cent of the informal business sector. Targeted interventions are necessary to support them and enhance their chances of benefiting from the opportunities offered by the EAC integration, according to Kabeho. He also called on financial institutions to fund women projects that are geared towards boosting cross-border trade.

He added that there is need to sensitise women entrepreneurs on regional and international trade standards to make them more competitive.

Capacity building and understand cross-border trade procedures will enhance women's ability to compete effectively for regional opportunities, according to Dr Kirsten Focken, the GIZ regional integration programme manager.

Local businesswomen speak out

Grace Mbabazi Mulinda, the managing director, Royal Links, a local clearing and forward firm, said there is need to train and equip women with business management skills to improve their capacity in running the enterprises sustainably and profitably.

She also called on women to form strong business groups to lobby for their interests at the regional level. There is also need to boost awareness on the trade opportunities with the region so that women can leverage on these opportunities to make more money, she added.

According to Chantal Uwiragiye, a Kigali textile dealer, women participation in enhancing intra-EAC trade is critical if the region is to fully-integrate at all levels.

"It is important that we put women at the centre of integration process by involving them in some of the key business projects designed to fast-track integration," she said.

She also called for more inclusiveness, especially in access to finance by women to boost their capacity to engage in cross-border trade.

Of the total approved loans by Rwanda's banking sector in 2017, only 20 per cent were for women entrepreneurs, according to central bank figures.

EAC women business leaders

Nancy Gitonga, the East African Women in Business Platform regional coordinator, said it is important for EAC governments to design policies that will help address the various challenges affecting women in business, especially those in the SME sector.

Currently, women in business face many challenges, including discrimination, harassment, negative cultural and societal barriers, as well as lack of information and awareness on the business opportunities in the region.

Gitonga said solving these barriers will enable women to participate in cross-border trade more effectively and, hence contribute meaningfully to regional sustainable economic development.

The summit is being attended by women in business from across the region, GIZ and EABC officials said.

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