Gender Provisions in African Trade Agreements: What Commitments Are There For Reconciling Gender Equality and Trade?
The trade agreements concluded by African countries stand out in many respects in terms of addressing gender issues. Specific provisions on gender have been integrated in African trade agreements since 1983, the first being the Treaty Establishing the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Since then, most economic integration agreements have included gender provisions – with some having an entire chapter devoted to women’s economic rights. African states have also concluded several trade agreements with the European Union (EU) or the United Kingdom (UK) with explicit gender provisions. Building on this practice, 54 African states have agreed to place gender equality at the heart of the objective of the largest free trade area ever created – the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), reinforcing the premise that African trade needs the full participation of women to succeed.
An empirical research based on 62 African trade agreements reveals 58 gender-related provisions in 23 different trade agreements concluded by at least one African state. The content of these provisions ranges from a mere mention of gender issues in areas of cooperation to mandatory measures to support women’s empowerment, with monitoring mechanisms ensuring their full implementation. From this assessment, one can infer that the commitments to reconcile gender equality and African trade differ from one African trade agreement to another.
This Trade Report examines the extent to which African states are committed to supporting women’s empowerment and promoting gender equality in trade agreements. Five levels of commitment are identified based on the location, the degree of precision, and the bindingness of the gender-related provisions included in trade agreements concluded by African states. This research concludes that about a third of the gender provisions reviewed indicate a relatively high degree of commitment to supporting women’s empowerment through trade liberalisation, and more often, state parties limit their commitment to cooperation without enforceability. This Trade Report also highlights a trend in which agreements of regional economic communities (RECs) tend to be more gender-responsive than agreements concluded with parties outside the African continent. In conclusion, it provides indicators to draft provisions aimed at effectively supporting women’s economic empowerment and ensure that women are not left behind in the trade liberalisation process in Africa.
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