Alert contributes to establishing a Committee on Women in Cross-border Trade

In the context of an ongoing programme on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Alert co-organised a regional workshop with the Economic Community of the Great Lakes (CEPGL) and UN WOMEN on April 25th – 27th in Gisenyi, Rwanda. The workshop brought together government representatives, regional organisations, international NGOs, civil society organisations and small-scale traders to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by women conducting informal cross border trade.

The meeting resulted in the establishment of a Joint Action Committee and a roadmap identifying priority actions to improve conditions for small-scale women traders. As a member of the executive committee, Alert (with input from our civil society partners) has an important role to play bringing together women traders from the different countries in the region (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC), strengthening women traders’ collective voice and assisting their efforts to engage local, provincial and national authorities.

Research on cross-border trade carried out by Alert at four borders in the region in November 2011 will be published in July 2012. The research demonstrates the importance of this trade for the livelihoods of at least 45,000 traders and their families, with 85% of traders being women. It also illustrates the high levels of illegal taxation, uncertainty and harassment experienced by traders at some borders (notably in DRC), where a ”Pact of the Devil” exists between traders who seek to minimise tax payments and border officials who seek to maximise personal revenue. Traders lack knowledge of their rights and obligations, including the legal tax regimes, and their trade is constrained by lack of access to microcredit, poor infrastructure, illegal taxation by border agents and harassment (including sometimes physical abuse).

Alert’s programme on Women’s Economic Empowerment focuses on small-scale cross-border trade connecting countries in the region and providing a key source of income for women traders, with important economic and social empowerment effects. This work is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the World Bank and UN WOMEN. We work with civil society organisations, women traders’ associations and authorities to achieve policy and behavioral change to improve the conditions for small-scale cross-border trade, and to bring women traders together to create networks contributing to rapprochement. A weekly radio programme is produced in Kiswahili as part of this project to improve the knowledge of traders, political authorities, border agencies and the wider population of the challenges faced by women traders and to give women traders the opportunity to express and share the problems they face and the solutions they find.

Photo: © Aubrey Wade/International Alert