A new study aimed at establishing the participation and role of women in trade in the region indicates that the majority of Rwandan women are confined to petty trade, household or agricultural related work.
The report based on research conducted by Nairobi-based organisation FEMNET in five countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt and Zambia showed that most women are marginalised in terms of doing business.
The study is part of the 2010 FEMNET initiated regional project to promote African women’s economic empowerment through gender responsive trade agreement that is aimed at ascertaining the gender effect in the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) talks.
According to the Consultative Umbrella of Women Associations in the Great Lakes Region (COCAFEM/GL), which presented the findings of the research on behalf of FEMNET in Rwanda, the survey indicates that despite some progress, Rwandan women still have a long way to go.
A survey carried out in Rwanda between July and September 2011 showed that most Rwandan women especially in rural areas are still marginalised by cultural and traditional norms while a big percentage are confined to household tasks.
The report, however, recognises that since 1994, Rwandan women have been ‘catapulted’ into political and economic arenas leading to the emergence of many corporate Rwandan women.
“Women have played a critical role in the country’s economic and social transformation process,” the report says.
“Women form 53 percent of the population yet they constitute less than 20 percent of the coffee and tea producers-the biggest export crops.”
Despite this, women are employed in mushrooming coffee washing stations and occupy low paying seasonal jobs, doing most of the work.
The report cites key challenges regarding trade, gender and women’s economic empowerment among others, with majority of women being employed in the agricultural sector but with limited access to land.
“Women constitute the majority of underemployed, illiterate and resource poor. There is also lack of enforcement mechanisms of gender integration and economic development provision,” says the report, which puts women at a disadvantage in the EPA talks.
“No clear mechanisms are proposed in the economic partnership agreements negotiations to exclusively deal with gender equality or protect country initiatives around gender equality,” the report says.
According to the Chairperson of COCAFEM, Jane Abatoni, the findings of the report were, last month, presented to different entities including the government and other players in the negotiations as well as the civil society in Rwanda to find ways of removing gender-based impediments.
“We recommended that the government assesses the situation to get a better understanding of the specific challenges and opportunities that women face from market liberalisation and formulating complimentary policies aimed at increasing opportunities for women.
“There is need to facilitate women to transition to more competitive and economically profitable activities,” Abatoni said.
According to Peace Basemera, the in charge of External Trade Negotiations at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM), the Ministry has among its plans initiatives to support women, particularly those involved in cross-border trade.
Among these are initiatives to start networking opportunities between Rwandan businesswomen and business communities within the region to help them market their products.
The Ministry also facilitates women to participate in trade fairs and exhibitions as well as help them access government assistance, technical or financial to facilitate them to do business.
In an interview with The New Times, Claude Kabutware, the coordinator of regional women’s body, COCAFEM/GL, who presented the findings of the study to different stakeholders, it was agreed that different non-tariff and technical barriers affecting women be addressed by states.
Among the identified challenges faced by women is lack of access to credit facilities, with a call to women to form cooperatives, which can easily help them to acquire credit facilities from banks.