Studies have underscored the role of sustainable trade in driving not only global economies but more specifically the economies of Africa. Trade liberalisation has also been identified as a vital force that is set to address gender inequality. The Covid-19 pandemic that has wiped more than half a million people globally has impacted negatively women more than men because of the multiple roles women play in the economy. Evidence suggests that the effects of Covid-19 will affect women more than any economic downturn of the past. In tandem with other reports from reputable institutions, the World Bank’s report reveals how Covid-19 has disrupted sectors that traditionally provide women with trade opportunities that enable them sustain their families. The tourism and hospitality industry, which represents a stronghold of women employers and women employees has been dealt a severe blow by trade and travel restrictions due to Covid-19. In addition women who are in the food, handicraft and art craft sectors are experiencing a serious decline in their businesses due to the decline in tourism.
Women in cross border trade have not been spared by Covid-19. Informal cross border trade is largely conducted by individuals who are women. Research from the United Nations Women Organisation and other empirical evidence suggest these women conduct micro, small businesses through trade in small consignments traded outside the formal economy. These activities provide not only livelihoods to families but they are a source of employment for most women.
During the Zimbabwe economic melt-down of 2008 it is arguably women in cross border trade that averted total starvation, through the importation of small consignments of basic commodities that had vanished from supermarkets’ shelves.
The lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus has involved closure of 54 countries in Africa and that has crippled cross border trade — a source of livelihood for women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is not all total gloom. The World Bank Report has observed an emerging trend that is set to create more economic opportunities for women. There has been a rise in the services economy, global value chain and the digital economy. In addition, the African Union (2020-2030) Digital Transformation for Africa Draft has highlighted the gap in digital skills amongst women and that will become an opportunity for women to acquire these skills.
Further to the above, statistics reveal that only 36 percent of the African population has smartphones and the target is to have 85 percent. The AU Digital Transformation paper identified a gender gap in mobile access and usage. With the increase in online trade or e-commerce, online education, telemedicine, the digital agricultural technologies and the swift approaching 4th Industrial Revolution, governments have to work over time to ensure the digital divide is erased through investing in the production of more smartphones to avoid leaving women behind.
As countries recover from Covid-19 the need to re-build better and stronger will not be possible without due considerations given to the trade and gender nexus.
The pandemic has forced some countries to cut back and be inwardly looking as opposed to globalisation. This is likely to negatively affect trade as a conduit of women’s economic participation.
Research has revealed that protectionism in the long run does not grow economies. The World Bank, in its report postulates that world economic integration is achieved through global value chains that help to reduce poverty locally and globally. The more a country is integrated globally the more trade acts as a driver to achieve gender equality and effective women economic participation.
Open trade achieved through gender sensitive policies is likely to achieve inclusive job-creating economic growth. It also important to mention that trade liberalisation and technological innovation will initially hurt the vulnerable groups of which women are a part of. In the long run trade achieves economic equality. The World Bank report’s analysis is that the implementation of the Africa Continent Free Trade Agreement is likely to increase women’s wages in relation to men’s wages thereby uplifting women economically.
Women traders and entrepreneurs play significant multiple roles in the economy. In the interest of inclusive economic development, it is important that their businesses access trade finance. The business environment should be enabled through promotion of trade facilitation programs that eliminate impediments to trade and access to trade information.
Amongst other considerations, the aforementioned strategies will ensure that none is left behind as Africa rises.–heral.cl.zw