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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Women Traders Demand Support

Ntandoyenkosi Ncube

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 19 2010 (IPS) - Support for regional trade is one of the cornerstones of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). But the focus has been on large scale trade in goods and services, ignoring one important group trading throughout the region.

Informal traders in the SADC region sell a wide range of goods: wood and stone carvings, clothes, furniture, electrical goods and doilies. Credit:  Ntandoyenkosi Ncube/IPS

Informal traders in the SADC region sell a wide range of goods: wood and stone carvings, clothes, furniture, electrical goods and doilies. Credit: Ntandoyenkosi Ncube/IPS

Cross-border traders, many of them women, have been contributing to the development of their nations and families, even before the establishment of the regional body.

According to a 2004 United Nations World Food Programme report, informal cross border trade played a significant role in averting widespread food insecurity during the 2002/03 drought that devastated the region.

And a United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) report, ‘Women in Informal Cross Border Trade in Southern Africa,’ says the average value contribution of informal cross border trade in the SADC region is 17.6 billion U.S. dollars per year, accounting for 30-40 percent of intra-SADC Trade.

The UNIFEM report was released at a workshop for Women Informal Cross Border Traders held from 8th to 11th February.

“By ignoring informal cross border trade, SADC member states could be overlooking a significant proportion of their trade,” UNIFEM Southern Africa Regional Director Nomcebo Manzini told IPS.


Traders demand recognition

At the workshop, cross border traders declared 2010 to be the year they are going to fight for regional government to acknowledge their contribution.

“This year we want them to recognise that cross border traders contribute to the GDP (gross domestic product) and put in place legal frameworks which protect us because there is a lot of harassment by government officials during transit,” Charity Mombeshora, the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Association’s secretary for gender and women’s affairs told IPS.

Their declaration is timed to coincide with the FIFA World Cup 2010 football tournament, which is expected to boost business for the host country – South Africa – and regionally.

And like any other entrepreneurs, women cross border traders want to see their businesses flourish and expand.

“We are encouraging our members to diversify… They must bring in something new for them and the industry to grow so that we can come with [shipping] containers also instead of coming with a bag. We don’t want to remain being ICBTs,” Thandi Tshukudu from Botswana said.

Obstacles to overcome

But the women traders are limited by unfavourable policies and a working environment that is hostile to women.

Shortages of foreign currency in some countries and stringent banking regulations throughout the region make it very difficult for them to operate bank accounts in the various countries they trade in.

Banks are reluctant to advance financial assistance to women traders because they have little in the way of collateral and the nature of business is deemed risky.

“Our main goal this year is to push our leaders to make sure we have micro-finance institutions specifically for women cross border traders so that we can access loans. These loans should be long term loans, not like the one they have now where they expect you to pay back in thirty days,” said Mozambican trader Lucia Cunica.

“Challenges are plenty. One such is transport from home…. when you get to the border its even worse and hectic, (Immigration officials) treat us like criminals… at times we spend hours at the border,” Christine Mongo from Zambia told IPS.

“The other challenge is like I am in transit to Namibia, I have my goods. I am charged duty in Botswana, yet I am in transit! And when I get to Namibia, I am charged duty again. At the end of the day the profit margin is very thin,” added Jacqueline Shonga.

Accommodation is a major concern for traders. They rent private homes or sleep in buses or bus shelters. Some enter into sexual relationships in order to secure accommodation for their trips. They risk rape and other forms of gender-based violence as well as contracting HIV.

The women traders at the UNIFEM workshop said they would create associations and cooperatives in the region to make strategic decisions for investment of the money generated from their trade. The associations will help train women cross border traders in areas such as product value addition, business management and record-keeping.

 
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