Building capacity to help Africa trade better

A gender responsive AfCFTA


A gender responsive AfCFTA

A gender responsive AfCFTA

The African Union’s agenda 2063 includes bold aspirations and targets for gender parity. It states:

Africa of 2063 will have full gender parity… the economic and political glass ceiling that restricted women’s progress will have been shattered.

One of the 2063 goals is to ‘[a]chieve gender parity in public and private institutions, and the removal of all forms of gender discrimination in the social, cultural, economic and political spheres.’

Similarly, Sustainable Development Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

As the finishing touches are being put on the first parts of AfCFTA Agreement, it is worth considering how this agreement can contribute to these goals.

It has become increasingly clear that it is not sufficient for policy making to be blind to gender. Rather, to ensure that women are included, and for economies to make the most of the contribution of women, it is necessary to make policy that takes into account gender difference and the structural and institutional barriers to female participation.

Trade policy is no different.

Trade is known to enhance economic wellbeing and to lift people from poverty. Yet, it is also now well known that the gains from trade are not evenly distributed among the population. Women are a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to this uneven distribution.

This is being recognised at the global level – most recently and most significantly in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. This declaration, spearheaded by Sierra Leone (and Iceland) and signed by 119 countries, including many African countries, is a commitment to making trade and development policies more gender inclusive. It is also being recognised at the bilateral level, for example in recent trade agreements signed by Chile.

So, with that in mind, we present some practical suggestions for negotiators and members states to consider for purposes of making the AfCFTA Agreement a gender responsive trade agreement.

Get the data

Statistics in Africa generally are not recognised as outstanding. Gender disaggregated statistics are not widely available and granular data that gives a picture of gender effects is gathered only sporadically.

For example, the African Development Bank’s Gender Equality Index provides important insights but thus far we have only seen one edition of this index. COMESA’s recent, inaugural gender statistics bulletin is an example of the recognition of the importance of gender disaggregated data, and also an indication that at least some of the data is available. But it also points out that, ‘in general, there is a lack of consistent, comprehensive and specific data bases on gender related statistics and indicators for the region, with some countries completely lacking data.’ This is also true for the broader region.

Not only is there a lack of gender disaggregated data, there is limited data on areas where women are particularly concentrated – trade in services and informal trade for example.

We know how to address this – more standardised data, better reporting, better systems. The general prescriptions for improving data apply equally to gender disaggregated data. The AfCFTA Agreement can encourage this by requiring reporting to the Secretariat, supporting capacity building for national statistics agencies and channelling aid for trade to acquire and analyse this data.

Having the data means understanding the ‘problem’ and having a way to measure the impact of AfCFTA on women, and a way to measure the results of any interventions to either mitigate any negative effects, or amplify the positive effects.

Identify the differences and address the consequences

Once we have the data, it is critical that we use it to understand how the AfCFTA will affect women both across the continent, and within individual countries in different ways. Different parts of the agreement will have varying impacts, and the agreement will have different impacts in different geographical areas and socio-economic groups. Analysis such as that of Chauvin, Porto and Ramos is useful in this regard. In their analysis of the welfare effects of the CFTA, they find that gender effects are not necessarily homogenous across countries – for example showing that ‘in some countries, the CFTA benefits male-headed households proportionately more than female-headed households, while the reverse happens in other countries’.

UNCTAD has produced a comprehensive trade and gender toolbox to assist in assessing how a given trade measure will affect women. Member states should make the most of these kinds of resources to establish how the AfCFTA Agreement might affect their female populations and to take appropriate steps to mitigate any negative impacts. This kind of analysis is critical to ensuring that the AfCFTA does not leave women behind.

Monitor, monitor, monitor (and enforce to the extent possible)

It is said that what is measured, matters. Ambitious goals are one thing, but making sure that those who have committed to the goals are doing what they said they would is crucial. When it comes to gender, AfCFTA will rely on the softer tools of enforcement – such as naming and shaming, peer pressure and high expectations. It will be up to the bodies created as part of AfCFTA to ensure this is done well.

This of course closely links with the collection of data – good data over time will allow African countries to demonstrate progress and to target policies to ensure that goals are met across the continent.

Consider a gender chapter or statement

Although commitments would only be aspirational in nature, this kind of chapter in the AfCFTA Agreement would reaffirm the commitments AU members have made as part of Agenda 2063 and give an additional layer to the commitment to gender equality. This commitment would be one that firmly focuses on the trade aspects of achieving gender equality, and the importance of gender equality to increasing trade.

The Canada-Chile FTA provides a useful example here. This agreement (along with several others agreed by Chile) includes a gender chapter that acknowledges the importance of the gender perspective to trade, reaffirms the parties’ commitments to international agreements focused on gender, and sets up a framework for cooperation on gender issues.

It is also worthwhile noting that the Cotonou Agreement – between the European Union, African, Caribbean and Pacific countries includes a gender article – so this is not unprecedented for African treaties. The original Cotonou Agreement includes in the Article 1 objectives, that ‘[s]ystematic account shall be taken of the situation of women and gender issues in all areas - political, economic and social.’, and Article 9 reaffirms the members commitment to gender equality, while article 31 specifically addresses gender issues. While this agreement is not trade focussed, it provides an example of commitments already made.

Another option is to simply acknowledge the gender impacts and the gender consequences of the AfCFTA. Given the already strong commitments and existing work in the AU, this may be a simpler way of incorporating gender into the agreement itself.

A recent example of this is the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the preamble of which ‘[r]eaffirms the importance of promoting… gender equality…’ (among a number of other things).

It does not change much, it doesn’t create any binding commitments but it sends a very important signal that African countries care about gender at the highest levels, acknowledges the impact that gender has on trade and that trade has on women.

Specific areas

While all aspects of the AfCFTA will impact women, and should be considered by member states, there are a couple of areas where particular attention could be focused.


Women are disproportionately represented in services sector employment – globally and on the continent (see tralac’s analysis of women in services trade in sub-Saharan Africa) meaning that services sector development is positively associated with female employment. On the other side, trading costs for services are much higher for services than goods, so to the extent that the AfCFTA can reduce trading costs for services, this is likely to positively affect women’s trading possibilities.


According to the African Development Bank, women are responsible for up to two-thirds of the agricultural labour force and most of the food on the continent.

Although responsible for a majority of the food, the AfDB also notes that ‘women farmers have less access to essential inputs – land, credit, fertilisers, new technologies and extension services. As a result, their yields tend to be significantly lower than men’s.’

This means that the impact of changing tariffs and shifting trading patterns needs to be very carefully monitored by member states – while reduced tariffs and improved trade facilitation might increase access to new markets for some women farmers, increased competition may also have a more severe impact on lower yielding women farmers.

Financial Services

A lack of finance is a significant constraint on investing in business expansion and education and skills development. A lack of access to finance is reported more by women than men.

Expanding the availability and competitiveness of financial services across the continent by reducing the barriers to cross-border trade in financial services has the potential to alleviate some of this gap.

Member state policies

Of course, most of the work to ensure that women are not badly or unfairly affected by the AfCFTA and that they are able to realise the benefits of the agreement will happen in member states.

For example, more trade often means shifting of the sectoral composition of economies. And indeed, the whole point of African development is sectoral shifts in economies. Women, often concentrated in lower skill sectors, can find it more difficult to make these transitions.[1] This means that investing in transition policies and investing in women’s skills and education will ease any negative impact from the shifting economic structures.


At a more basic level, but one that is firmly in the control of the AU Commission, it should go without saying that any new bodies or committees formed under the auspices of the AfCFTA Agreement have equal gender representation. This would also be consistent with the Agenda 2063 first ten years implementation plan.

Final thought: Get it done

Trade liberalisation and eliminating barriers to trade will have a positive welfare impact on African economies. Whether the specific benefits accrue to women needs to be analysed, but overall, growing the economic pie means more opportunity for all. To the extent increases in trade create more paid employment or entrepreneurial opportunities for women, women will be empowered financially, socially and in households.

So, making sure the AfCFTA Agreement is not only signed, but that it promptly enters into force and that progressive negotiations continue is perhaps the most important thing member states can do to support the economic empowerment of women on the continent.

Africa’s women are Africa’s future. We can’t afford to, and nor should we want to leave them out of the AfCFTA. A gender inclusive AfCFTA is better for all Africans.

[1] Although note that it is unskilled and semi-skilled men who have struggled to make these transitions in the developed world.

About the Author(s)

Ashly Hope (Volunteer)

Ashly is a professional volunteer with the Australian Government’s Australian Volunteers for International Development Program. She served as Research Coordinator (Trade in Services and Regulation) at tralac. Ashly has experience in policy advice and analysis in financial regulation, international economic governance and international tax. She holds a BA (Political Science)/LLB from the University of Tasmania, and an LLM (Government and Commercial) from the Australian National University.

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