Windhoek - Despite making up around 70% of informal cross-border traders in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, women are still struggling to graduate to formal trading.
Even with SADC gender protocol in use today, women from the region are still denied equal opportunities despite the protocol clearly stating otherwise.
The protocol states that SADC should be a region where women, men, girls and boys have equal opportunities to participate freely as equal partners in all spheres of public and private life. This includes in all decision-making processes, and have equal access to and control over productive resources and services, as well as contribute to and benefit from all development processes and initiatives.
According to Namibia’s Prime Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, this hindrance is brought about by the lack of policies that ensure that most women graduate from informal trading to formal trading.
Speaking at the 3rd Annual SADC Industrialisation Week held in Windhoek this week, the Premier said open trade means a bigger market for the region’s goods and services, and the creation of regional value chains, better trading and improved investment environment.
She said trade it is, therefore, an important tool for inclusive growth and for poverty eradication for women who are estimated to account for around 70% of informal cross-border traders in the SADC region.
“The key word here is inclusive - we must not allow the gains of trade to mean that some are left behind. Thus, we need trade to grow the economic pie to be equitably shared by all,” she said, adding that trade creates opportunity, but it is up to the officials to direct that opportunity and to enable the citizens to take advantage of these opportunities.
According to Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, this is the reason the Namibian government has come up with interventions aimed at assisting women-owned businesses, such as equipment aid to assist small and medium enterprises procure production machinery and equipment.
This, she says, is intended to help budding small entrepreneurs to improve and increase their productive capacities and product quality as well as to enhance business prospects, survival and growth in general.
Statistics show that since its inception in the 2009/2010 financial year, close to 3,000 individual businesses have been assisted to the value of R218 million and most of them are women.
Further, the Development Bank of Namibia supports women-owned enterprises to increase and broaden developmental impact. During the course of this year, of the R380 million projects financed R120 million went to women-owned projects in the areas of renewable energy, meat processing, accommodation establishment and tourism-related business activities.
“In short, our policy choices will influence the distribution of the opportunities to trade and benefits of trade,” said Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.
She added that there are human rights imperatives for gender equality, but there is also an economic imperative.
“When women work, they create value; when women earn more, they spend more. We simply can’t afford for women to participate less in the economic life of this region than men.”
Gender equality in trade is being recognised at the global level – most recently and most significantly in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.
This declaration, spearheaded by Sierra Leone and Iceland and signed by 119 countries, including Namibia, and around half of the other SADC member states is a commitment to making trade and development policies more gender inclusive.