African Continental Free Trade Area Could Expand Opportunities for Women, Say Atpc-SADC Webinar Panelists

13 November 2020

Addis Ababa — - The African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC)-Women in Business, and the SADC Business Council webinar on women's participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on 12 November closed with an assurance to bridge the gender gap on the continent.

With the theme: "Women and private sector engagement in inclusive AfCFTA implementation: Views from SADC", the webinar featured panel discussions with public and private sector stakeholders to understand how the implementation of the AfCFTA can support gender equality and women's economic empowerment from a regional perspective.

South Africa's Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Pinky Kekana, in her opening remarks, emphasized the importance of the digital economy to close the gender divide in an AfCFTA environment.

Citing an example of how a smart phone and cost-effective data could change the world of trading for women in rural areas, she said: "Connectivity can obliterate border barriers, allowing women to trade, buy and bank, regardless of where they are in the world."

"Connectivity can level all playing fields, changing the face of trading forever," she said.

According to the ATPC's gender and trade expert Nadirat Bayat, AfCFTA could advance gender equality and increase economic opportunities for women-owned businesses.

"There are a number of provisions in the AfCFTA Agreement - although not gender-specific - that are of consequence to women in their roles as workers, entrepreneurs (owners of informal and formal enterprises), and small-scale and informal cross-border traders. While not targeted at women directly, these provisions could be leveraged to empower and expand new trade and economic opportunities generated by AfCFTA for women," said Ms.Bayat.

The AfCFTA agreement entered into force on 30 May 2019 after 22 countries ratified the treaty - the minimum number required by the treaty. That number has since grown to 30 countries. Trading was earlier scheduled to start on 1 July this year but was postponed for six months owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through its African Trade Policy Centre, the ECA has been working with the African Union Commission (AUC), Regional Economic Communities, and member states to deepen Africa's trade integration and effectively implement the agreement through policy advocacy and national strategy development. The ECA also works closely with the International Trade Centre (ITC), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and a selection of independent trade experts with the financial support of the European Union (EU) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to support the implementation of the treaty.

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