Time women jump from peripheral roles in economic development, resource ownership
Ruth Butaumocho African Agenda
Mbuya Charwe (70) sits under the tree, repackaging her dried vegetables for resale at Dambatsoko Agricultural Show in Chiweshe, which will be held during the weekend.
She meticulously grades and sorts stakes of different types of vegetables packed in huge 90kg sacks.
As she rigorously goes through the vegetables, Mbuya Charwe silently prays for a good sale that will earn her enough money to buy two goats from her neighbour.
Although she is aware that her dried vegetables will fetch more money in Harare, she cannot even imagine taking that route because she is incapacitated.
Meanwhile, a thousand kilometres from Mbuya Charwe’s homestead — in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hundreds of women are meeting at a continental forum to discuss how best women’s economic activities can be incorporated into the continental trade framework, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
The conference on land policy currently being held at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia is a crucial launch pad of information, critical for the integration of women in the continental economic trajectory.
The African Land Policy Centre, a collaborative project of the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission, and the African Development Bank, hosts the Conference on Land Policy in Africa every two years.
Although Mbuya Charwe might never know about such a conference, let alone dream of being part of the auspicious delegation, her economic aspirations and that of thousands of women in similar circumstances are under discussion at the conference.
The African continent is at a crucial juncture with two significant economic developments, that if linked and properly coordinated could change the lives of thousands of women across the continent.
The recognition and promotion of women’s access to land and the proper implement of AfCFTA can potentially drive sustainable development, gender equality and economic growth across Africa.
In a speech read on his behalf in his opening remarks, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ECA, Executive Secretary Mr Clever Gatete said the AfCFTA holds the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, boost Africa’s income by US$450 billion and can connect 1,3 billion people through trade.
“This is significant in view of the youth bulge and opportunities of ever-accelerating digitalisation, including in land-based sectors such agriculture,” he said.
Through digitalisation, Mr Gatete added that there is great potential for the youth and women to tap into the growing agriculture and agribusiness sector, projected to reach US$1 trillion by 2030.
“This is a low hanging fruit, given that most of Africa’s youth, about 40-60 percent of them are already engaged in agriculture and agribusiness,” said Mr Gatete.
With women constituting more than 52 percent of the African population, ordinarily the benefits of AfCFTA should cascade in their plates.
Suffice to say, that feat will not be achieved as long as women continue to maintain peripheral roles in economic development and resource ownership, which currently is the case.
Yes, AfCFTA boasts of a lot of economy opportunities.
However, these opportunities will be in favour of the well prepared, strategically positioned, people with access to information and have means of production to enable them to compete at regional level.
With Africa’s main economic activities being anchored around land through such activities as agriculture and the extractive sector, it becomes imperative to address women’s land rights, a development which is fundamental in ensuring that women will also participate and benefit from the opportunities that the continental free trade agreement will unlock.
Currently, women provide the bulk of labour input in African agriculture, with the World Bank saying about 80 percent of those in agriculture are women.
Despite the existence of progressive laws and policies, women continue to face significant problems in accessing and owning land due to cultural norms, discriminatory practices and limited legal access.
Highlighting the challenges that women face in her country which were likely to impede on their access to an avalanche of opportunities from AfCFTA, Ms Nzira Deus from Mozambique said the existence of customary laws around land was impeding women’s advancement in agriculture as major actors.
Gender-based violence and patriarchal norms and practices, prevalent in her country were some of the challenges women battle with.
Although women work on land on a daily basis, Ms Deus said such efforts often amount to nothing, since they are only paid a small fraction of what they would produced.
In the case of Mozambique, prospects of women’s economic ascendancy through AfCFTA, continue to diminish since insurgents started attacking parts of the country a few years ago.
Elsewhere in Africa, there may not be such wars, but the impediments towards economic development that face women remain the same.
Despite the challenges that women face, the situation can be redeemed, once women get the necessary financial support, capacity building and political goodwill.
Regional collaboration of women across regions would be crucial, to allow exchange of ideas, expertise, network support, while forming strong economic blogs and bonds.
Ms Maureen Wagubi from Uganda believes AfCFTA presents vast opportunities for women.
The initiative requires collaborative efforts across the region, if women are to claim a stake in the trade agreement.
“Collaborative efforts are bearing fruit in other regions, with women coming together to harness knowledge and strengthen way of doing business across,” she said.
In a bid to build strong ties, women in Tanzania have formed cooperatives in growing cashew nuts.
The collaborative effort is meant to improve the quality of the product, pull resources, while exchanging knowledge and expertise in cashew production.
Once women have honed skills in chain production, they should attain financial literacy, marketing skills, branding and be tech savvy.
The world is moving so fast that failure to adopt to emerging trends in information communication technology will render one’s economic efforts to nothing.
With the trend toward the provision of services online (e-services), in particular through the internet, in both the public and private sector, women entrepreneurs and consumers without access to this technology have a clear disadvantage.
In addition, in recent times, the advent of emerging technologies, including automation and artificial intelligence, is redefining the future of economics and trade, with particular impact on women.
While this is offering opportunities, it may also require mitigating measures to ensure no widening of the gender gap, particularly in developing countries, are not left behind.
It is even more challenging for rural women and those in marginalised communities, who still have no access to internet, let alone have money to buy a smart phone and data.
With the continental efforts gaining momentum in expediting activities at the trade agreement, digital technologies, in particular online platforms, member states should promote their usage among women to leverage their comparative advantages and overcome a range of hurdles in traditional modes of trade.
These technologies will be enablers, enhancing women’s participation in trade by reducing the cost of trade, opening new opportunities to trade in services, enabling them to better use their skills and facilitate women’s access to finances.