African Continental Free TradeGender inequality in the workforce is an issue that affects women globally. Women account for 60% of all jobs globally but earn only 10% of all income. In addition, 70% of women experience financial exclusion, which contributes to gender inequality in Africa. Barriers to educational opportunities are also factors of gender inequality with up to 4 million girls that have not enrolled in the educational system. Advancing women’s involvement and opportunity in the African economy will aid in closing the gender gap. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement aims to economically transform Africa and women are an important part of this process.

The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement

The AfCFTA agreement came into effect on January 1, 2021, and created one of the largest free trade areas in the world. AfCFTA created a new market of 1.3 billion people across Africa. This accounts for a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion. According to the World Bank, AfCFTA has the potential to take up to 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and increase the incomes of 68 million Africans who live on less than $5.50 a day.

The provisions of the agreement include lowering trade tariffs between participating countries and other beneficial regulatory measures. Overall, AfCFTA aims to completely reshape African markets and boost the economy with the creation of new jobs, increased industrialization and increased trade within Africa. In addition, women will benefit from the agreement by improving their access to trade opportunities and stimulating wage gains by up about 10.5%.

Boosting Women-Owned Businesses

The AfCFTA can boost women’s roles in jobs across different sectors like the agricultural sector. In agricultural jobs, AfCFTA can expand markets for exports and widen opportunities available to women. With increased industrialization and diversification, the AfCFTA can benefit women’s manufacturing and wage employment in manufacturing industries. Higher-skilled jobs will also become more available and accessible to women. In addition, significant benefits are present for women entrepreneurs. Regional value chains support smaller women-owned businesses. The chains allow larger firms to use smaller women-owned businesses as suppliers.

The SheTrades Project

Empowering Women in the AfCFTA project also addresses the gender gap. The purpose of the SheTrades project is to support women-owned businesses so that they can experience the free trade benefits under AfCFtA. The project focuses on capacity building, networking and advocacy as a means to achieve this. The project works with more than 50 women’s business associations to raise awareness of prioritizing women in terms of AfCFTA and discuss recommendations for prioritizing women as well as policy advocacy strategies. It also works to provide a platform for women’s business associations to work with each other as well as policymakers.

Addressing Gender Inequality

Women are key stakeholders in the development of the African economy under AfCTA, consisting of 70% of informal traders.

AfCFTA also recognizes the importance of gender in trade relations in Africa by stating the importance of incorporating gender inequality in the context of trade and the economy. A method of fighting gender inequality in Africa is through gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming is defined as, “a process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned actions, including legislation, policies or programs in all areas and at all levels.” Strategies like gender mainstreaming are addressed and applied in several countries’ AfCTA National Implementation Strategies.

Implementation of further gender gap-related policies can strengthen the impact that the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement has on Africans and help to eradicate gender inequality in Africa.

Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr