Building capacity to help Africa trade better

A transformative Continental Free Trade Area requires inclusion of women


A transformative Continental Free Trade Area requires inclusion of women

A transformative Continental Free Trade Area requires inclusion of women
Photo credit: Pablo Tosco | Oxfam

A group of experts met in Addis Ababa for the 2017 edition of the Continental Workshop on Trade and Gender under the theme, “The role of regional economic communities in supporting gender sensitive implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area”.

The workshop was organized by the African Trade Policy Centre of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), in conjunction with the 10th Session of the Committee on Regional Cooperation and Integration.

In his opening remarks, David Luke, the Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre, noted that the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was an ambitious project.

The CFTA is expected to significantly boost intra-African trade and accelerate structural transformation on the continent, said Mr. Luke. However, it will be necessary to ensure that the benefits are shared, and this includes paying special attention on gender equality in the CFTA process.

“Too often we still hear the claim that trade policy is gender neutral, while we know that the benefits and costs of trade are not equally distributed between men and women. When we do discuss women in trade, the discussion remains limited to the patterns observed – such as the fact that many informal traders are women – rather than the causes of these imbalances,” he said.

The meeting called for explicit gender language in the CFTA to ensure political commitment and a legal basis for action on gender equality in the context of the agreement.

It was suggested that Regional Economic Communities (RECs) could use their status as intergovernmental bodies to develop regional common positions and frameworks to support implementation.

The meeting also highlighted the role of development partners in supporting building capacity in gender mainstreaming, including through improved gender statistics.  

The experts agreed that the understanding of the links between trade and gender equality was often missing on the continent.

Many initiatives had been introduced to promote the role of women on trade, but effective implementation remained an issue. Going forward, they agreed, implementation and monitoring of outcomes from agreed initiatives should be prioritized.

Workshop participants included representatives from the RECs, United Nations agencies, the African Union Commission, member States, civil society and private sector. A representative of the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa also attended.


It is traditionally considered that the impacts of trade agreements and trade policy in general are gender neutral. Real life experience has proven that this is not the case. While trade liberalization is not inherently good or bad for gender inequality, gender and trade mutually affect each other in ways that can amplify existing gender gaps.

To meaningfully acknowledge this relationship – and use it for closing and not widening the gender gap – it is important that rather than being an afterthought, gender considerations become an integral part of trade agreements and trade policy.

The African countries launched the negotiations for the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in June 2015, with negotiations expected to conclude by the end of 2017. The CFTA is an ambitious continental project, and is likely to have deep impacts in terms of boosting intra-African trade and strengthening Africa’s position in the global market. Given the expected changes in the dynamics of Africa’s trade within the continent and with others, the ability for African countries to consider gender aspects of trade policy is crucial.

The African regional economic communities (RECs) form the backbone of the CFTA process and can have an important role in guiding and supporting the implementation of gender-sensitive strategies by their respective member states


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