Women engaged in cross-border trade still face many challenges that are affecting their performance and profitability. Issues like language barrier, insufficient working capital, and the fact that mothers are not allowed to cross some borders with the young children, still impend business growth of women engaged in cross-border trade.
Though border customs procedures have been greatly reduced, cross-border women entrepreneurs say a lot of time is wasted at border points clearing goods, especially when there are power cuts or the data capturing system is down, causing delays.
These are some of the main barriers affecting women involved in cross-border businesses, according to findings of a study carried out last year. The study, by the Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), examined the current trade policies at national and regional levels in the East African Community (EAC) bloc.
In an interview with Business Times EASSI project co-ordinator Elisabeth Ampairwe said there is also lack of skills and knowledge on how to compile business data and on how to use technology in business transactions.
Ampairwe says these challenges continue to make it hard for women traders to operate profitably in the region.
She called on EAC governments to increase their support to women cross-border traders so that they are able to improve operations and earn more money that would help enhance their lives and those of their families.
Cross-border trade with neighbouring countries accounted for 18.5 per cent of formal export value amounting to $86.49 million in the first 10 months of 2015, a decline by 3.7 per cent from $89.85 million during the same period of 2014, according to statistics from central bank. Informal imports with neighboring countries were at $68.1 million over the reporting period, a drop from $74 million the previous year.
Commenting on the issues raised by the report, James Tayebwa, a cross-border trade specialist at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the ministry is working to provide more support to women engaged in cross-border trade, as well as Rwandan business people generally. Tayebwa said the ministry will continue to ensure all trade barriers are eliminated to create an enabling business environment to make Rwanda more competitive.
According to Margret Mutumwinka, the second vice-chairperson at Pro-femme/Twese Hamwe, women cross-border traders lack capital, business management skills and need access to more market information and new markets.
Mutumwinka says there are over 900 cross-border trade groups, most of whom lack the required skills to do business competitively.
She says though they have facilitated and supported the formation and registration of 25 women cross-border trade cooperatives, and trained 168 of their leaders co-operative management, a lot needs to be done to empower these women in business.
Pro-femme/Twese Hamwe seeks to boost value-additional initiatives of cross-border traders at the targeted borders, and improve access to market and market information and facilitate more access to finance among the target group.
Xaverine Mutumwinka from Cyanika border, said majority of women traders used illegal routes because they do not understand customs procedures or think they would be taxed highly.
“The majority of women traders are illiterate and don’t understand Kiswahili, the language used mostly in the East African Community trade. There is also the problem of interpretation of trade documents,” Muhawenimana says.
Mutumwinka says it is essential that EAC women are sensitised on gender and women empowerment to benefit from programmes and policies targeting them.
Other govt interventions
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry will set up trade information desks at all border points to provide trade information, such as market demand and supply, exchange rates, as well as commonly traded goods and tax tariffs, according to officials. However, there is concern as women engaged in informal cross-border trade shun even basic formal systems and structures while carrying out trade-related activities.
Tayebwa says it is important for women in informal cross-border trade to comply with existing trade regulations and benefits from incentives given by government.
Women constitute the larger proportion of those dealing in small-scale cross-border trade in East Africa region, according to EASSI.
“Therefore, we must facilitate women and girls in general trade and services sectors by providing training, as well as sharpen their skills so as to become competitive and benefit from their efforts,” argues EASSI’s Ampaire.
She says EAC countries should create an enabling environment for cross-border women traders, saying this has a multiplier effect as the women support their immediate families and extended families, among others.
Traders with toddlers were advised to acquire free travel documents for their children. She says officials from the customs, immigrations and other related departments need to be trained in gender dimensions of cross-border trade, and how to capture data that would help gender mainstreaming.