Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project


Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project

Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project
Photo credit: EIF Rwanda

The “Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project” seeks to map women’s organisations in the ECOWAS sub-region and their potential to support the capacity building, advocacy and development of women cross border traders, through serving as platforms for the articulation of their challenges and aspirations. 

In general, the project aims to make concrete information available to all stakeholders, including the ECOWAS, National Governments and Development Partners, for planning of further interventions to support women cross border trade in West Africa.

The women cross border traders of West Africa form a significant group of those involved in informal trade across the sub-region. Women cross border traders are not a homogenous group. They include a large group of small scale traders with little working capital, infrastructure and rudimentary numeracy/literacy skills.

The women traders are a paradox because in spite of their contributions to the regional and national GDPs of their respective countries, they have not been recognized for their economic contributions. Liberia has proven to be the only West African country that is favourably disposed to the women cross border traders.

While there are no policy frameworks that specifically focus on women cross border traders as a distinctive group, there are a number of supportive policy frameworks at all levels that can be leveraged to support them at the global (CEDAW/MDG3/Beijing Platform for Action), continental (AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality/Decade of the African Women/AU Gender Policy Action Plan/Protocol to the Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa), Regional (ECOWAS Gender Action Plan) and National levels (Gender Action Plans in Member States).

ECOWAS Commission has already commenced formal plans to engage with the women cross border traders by the development of a roadmap in 2013 at an expert’s meeting which was convened and a follow up meeting that considered the draft ECOWAS Plan on Gender and Trade in January 2015. These significant policy initiatives will attract technical resources and capacity building support from International organisations such as the International Trade Centre which is currently supporting the Uganda Export Promotion Council Program with women cross border traders.


The Declaration on Intra-Regional Trade and the Continental Free Trade Zone by the Heads of State and Government of the African Union at their 18th Ordinary Session in Addis Ababa from 29-30 January 2012 states that enhanced African trade and deepening market integration can contribute significantly to economic growth, employment generation, poverty reduction, inflow of foreign direct investment, and better integration of the continent into the global economy.

The Heads of State and Government must have had the women cross border traders at the back of their minds while issuing the declaration. The women traders are the economic backbone of the West African sub region. Indeed, the bulk of these women are classified as informal traders or in the case of Ghana ‘head pan traders’, and they contribute significantly to regional integration and trade. They generate employment, ensure food security, and are responsible for poverty alleviation and livelihood.

In addition to their activities, these women traders are also able to see to their family needs including ensuring that their children are in school, have nutritious meals and access to medical care, through the use of the resources accruing to them.

In spite of the perseverance of the women traders, the Regional Trade Policy Environment has not taken this group into cognizance. Since they are mainly engaged in informal trade, their contribution to intra-regional trade in West Africa is under reported; thereby leading to constant harassment by border security officials (i.e. customs, immigration and joint border officials). The women also fall victim to theft, armed robbery, delated crossings at the border posts, and physical/sexual harassment among other things.

The findings of the Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project (2014) during the Nigeria and Ghana review meetings confirm that not much has changed in respect of the treatment meted out to the women cross border traders in the West African sub region by border security agencies. Although significant strides have been made in highlighting the issues that concern the plight of the women traders and in attracting the attention of the policymakers at both the regional and national levels, the time has come for the women cross border traders to be integrated into the Regional Trade Policy Architecture in West Africa.

According to the World Bank Report titled  pdf De-Fragmenting Africa: Deepening Regional Trade in Goods and Services (1.85 MB) , such cross border trade in essential for welfare and poverty reduction since poor people and especially women are intensively engaged in the production and trading of informal goods and services that are actually crossing African borders. Allowing these traders to flourish and gradually integrate into the formal economy will boost trade and the private sector base for future growth and development.

Also Dr. Obi Ezekwesili (former Vice President, World Bank) remarked that: “it is clear that Africa is not reaching its potential for regional trade, despite the fact that its benefits are enormous: they create larger markets, help countries diversify their economies, reduce costs, improve productivity, and help reduce poverty. Yet trade and non-trade barriers remain significant and fall most heavily and disproportionately on poor traders, most of whom are women.

“African leaders must now back aspiration with action and work together to align the policies, institutions, and investments needed to unblock these barriers and to create a dynamic regional market on a scale worthy of Africa’s one billion people and its roughly $2 trillion economy.”

As if to echo the perspectives of the World Bank Report as well as the statement of the former Vice President of the World Bank cited above, participants at the Nigeria and Ghana review meetings strongly recommended the establishment of a platform for organisations that will advocate for women cross border traders in the West African sub region.


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