Empowering Women in Trade: Celebrating International Women’s Day with AfCFTA


On International Women’s Day, celebrated each year on March 8th, we turn our focus to the transformative power of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in empowering women across the continent. The AfCFTA, by creating the world’s largest free trade area, holds unparalleled potential to drive economic growth, reduce poverty, and promote gender equality in Africa. As we mark this significant day, it’s crucial to explore how the AfCFTA can serve as a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment and what steps need to be taken to ensure women fully benefit from this historic agreement.

The Promise of AfCFTA for Women

The AfCFTA aims to streamline trade across Africa, promising to boost intra-African trade by removing tariffs on 90% of goods, facilitating the movement of capital and people, and fostering a more integrated market. For women, who constitute a substantial portion of the informal trading sector and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), this agreement opens up new avenues for growth and development. By reducing trade barriers and simplifying customs procedures, the AfCFTA can significantly enhance women’s participation in trade, offering them greater access to regional markets and opportunities to scale their businesses.

Challenges to Overcome

Despite the opportunities, women face unique challenges that could hinder their full participation in the benefits of the AfCFTA. These include limited access to finance, lack of information and training on trade regulations, and societal norms that restrict women’s economic activities. Furthermore, women often bear the brunt of labor-intensive work with lower pay, and without targeted interventions, the AfCFTA could inadvertently exacerbate gender inequalities.

Strategic Actions for Women’s Empowerment

To ensure that women can fully leverage the potential of the AfCFTA, concerted efforts from governments, regional bodies, and civil society are essential. These efforts should focus on:

  1. Enhancing Access to Finance: Implementing policies and programs that provide women entrepreneurs with the financial resources they need to expand their businesses and engage in cross-border trade.
  2. Capacity Building: Offering training and mentorship programs to women in trade regulations, digital literacy, and entrepreneurial skills to equip them for success in a more integrated African market.
  3. Promoting Gender-Sensitive Policies: Ensuring that the AfCFTA’s implementation considers the needs of women, including provisions for maternity rights, equal pay, and protection against discrimination.
  4. Supporting Women in Formalization: Encouraging the transition of women-led businesses from the informal to the formal sector through simplified registration processes and tax incentives.
  5. Fostering Networks and Platforms: Creating networks and platforms that connect women entrepreneurs across Africa, facilitating knowledge exchange, collaboration, and access to regional and global markets.

A Call to Action

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s a moment to reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and the economic empowerment of women. The AfCFTA presents a historic opportunity to reshape the economic landscape of Africa in a way that promotes inclusivity and equity. By addressing the specific challenges faced by women and implementing targeted strategies to support their participation in trade, we can ensure that the AfCFTA becomes a true force for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Let us seize this moment to advocate for policies and initiatives that recognize the pivotal role of women in trade and development. Together, we can harness the power of the AfCFTA to create a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future for all Africans.