A New study on the impact of used clothes and shoes in East Africa recommends that women in trade must be given special attention to ensure that they are not marginalised.
The study, published as part of a project to promote agriculture, climate and trade linkages in the East African Community (EAC), is the work of CUTS International, Geneva, non-profit organisation.
It recommends that the women in trade in the cotton, apparel, textile and leather industries would have to be given particular attention, especially because the business playing field when developing industry is not even, to ensure that they are not marginalised.
Shedding light on a gender perspective, the study indicates that used clothes trade is a relatively sensitive sector because it is an area that has all sorts of players; from the educated and elite to people with little or no education, people from the grass-roots, persons with disabilities, widows, foreigners and in the majority of cases, women.
The study says that among the largest import sources for used clothes in Rwanda are Denmark and China, with imports valued at $5.2 million in 2015. This is followed by United Arab Emirates with a $3.4 million, Belgium, US and India.
Rwanda is proceeding with the planned phase-out of importation of used clothes despite threats that it could lead to a review of eligibility to access duty-free access to the US market.
Phaseout of used clothes
The EAC has moved to phase out the importation of used clothes and shoes across the East African region as part of an industrialisation plan to give rise to the growth of the local textile industry. Rwanda last year increased taxes on used clothes from $0.2 to $2.5 per kilogramme, while taxes on used shoes will increase from $0.2 to $3 per kilogramme. “Industrialisation, on the other hand, is a sector where businesses are perceived to be typically owned by men, with the women mainly being smaller players or not at all,” reads part of the study.
“Further, women are strongly involved in smallholder cotton cultivation and face the same types of challenges that they face in trade. These include lack of easy access to credit, decision-making independence, property entitlement, representation and participation in collective organisation, and disproportionate health risks from pesticide use, among others.”
The study argues that specific policies should be put in place to support women in the different partner states in the implementation of the ban and concurrent promotion of the cotton, apparel, textile and leather sector, to ensure that they are not marginalised in the transition process.
“Whereas one could argue that the gender challenges mentioned herein have nothing to do with industrialisation or the promotion of the ban, but rather the lack of effective policies for the integration of women into mainstream economic development, the point is that women in trade will have to be put into consideration, when implementing the ban,” the research finding says.
Karen Uwera, proprietor of Karssh Collections Ltd, a new local brand that deals in fashion design, said special attention for women in the sector is appropriate because women, especially the illiterate and semi-illiterate, are vulnerable to tough business environments.
Meanwhile, Uwera said the impending ban could make it hard for consumers to adjust to the new prices of new locally made products.
While the new study says SHCs are considered as being unique, original and long lasting, Uwera says that the latter view is an illusion.
Uwera said: “That’s an illusion, original, in my opinion, is something that hasn’t been duplicated and unique is something made out of creativity without copying existing designs. However, I know that second hand is loved because people get to put on famous and international brands at a cheap cost. For example, a shirt that normally costs $100 can be got at $10 or less.”
“What I am doing in my business is to uphold creativity and innovation and contributing to the Made-in-Rwanda campaign. And obviously ensuring high quality.”
The power to bring down prices of her locally made apparels, she said, is in the hands of policy makers.
Uwera added: “The law to waive taxes for imported raw materials meant for production not resale is in the process and this will be a key factor for lower prices of my products. Otherwise, as a business person the profit should be reasonable based on cost of production and taxes involved.”
Women importers of used clothes
Muthoni Kiguru, a PhD student at the US International University in Nairobi, Kenya, told The New Times that women are the majority of textile importers of second hand clothes and shoes.
She said this is mainly because the undertaking is seen as an informal job and housewives are often given startup capital by their husbands or family to supplement household incomes.
“Today, it is seen as full time employment. Banks now prefer to lend to women money since they pay on time, are less likely to flee and are consistent. Women have also grouped themselves in vyama (self-help groups) to cushion themselves from financial crises,” Kiguru said, making the case for the gender perspective.
“In Kenya, only one insurance company (CIC insurance) is willing to give cover to informal traders. Sometimes, the traders, mostly women, have had to close shop after being affected by more than one fire incidents.”
According to the study, different countries are using various mechanisms to curtail the influx of used clothes into their economies with varying success.
In South Africa, importation of used clothes is banned.
Outside the continent, countries such as India, have embraced their cultural attire which is manufactured or designed locally reducing demand for used clothes imports.