Gender mainstreaming of trade policy

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)

Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu Trade & Technology

During the  recent 13th  Extra Ordinary Summit held on the 5th of December the AU Chairperson  Cyril  Ramaphosa in his opening remarks articulated how important  the role of women was  within the Africa Continent Free Trade Agreement as part of  global development.

There has been an outcry by various progressive organisations on the  absence of  a dedicated gender chapter  in the AfCFTA. The  leaders  have taken heed of this observation as there will be a Protocol on Women and Youth  within the AfCFTA. This was further confirmed by the Secretary General Wamkele Mene in a press release  during  the Summit. He said, “women in trade, young Africans and SMEs, confront significant challenges when attempting to benefit from trade agreements”.

As always been said, deliverance on the AfCFTA Protocols  including Protocol  on Women and Youth will not be automatic but will need rigorous implementation through the AfCFTA National  Strategies obtaining  within the  State Parties.

This will call for gender mainstreaming of trade policies. In this context gender mainstreaming means ensuring that due consideration is given to gender inequalities and implications at every stage of the formulation of trade policy processes. It is important to always have this definition in mind as in most cases countries think that gender mainstreaming is a question of ticking boxes. It is this attitude prevalent mostly at decision levels  that has seen most gender interventions not yielding the intended results.


Agriculture remains an area that will present immense opportunity within the AfCFTA and because it is prudent to consider the gender dynamics so  that women may release  their full potential in the area of agriculture.The AfCFTA  will present  increased access to markets  through expanded  regional value chains. Studies done  by African Development Bank  reveal that women contribute 50 percent of the labour force in agriculture  and contribute immensely both in rural and urban economies. They perform multiple roles in the agricultural sector as livestock breeders, seed conservers, small scale farmers, processors and traders.

Nevertheless, research has also revealed how Trade Agreements may inadvertently perpetuate inequality as trade agreements in general benefit only the formal sector, as the provisions address formal barriers to trade. It is the multinationals and big companies that benefit, while MSMEs mostly owned by women and WOB (Women Owned Businesses) are left out.

Trade in agriculture takes place in a complex environment as revealed by   FAO  studies   on Agriculture , Trade Negotiations and Gender. Trade liberalisation will always come not without risks. Joint ventures  through the  global value chains present opportunities in the area of technology. This is an inherent threat to household subsistence farming, while the large commercial farmers, including cash crop farmers  benefit  from opportunities  that come with GVC investment in agriculture.

The Green Revolution technologies tend to favour large commercial farming  entities at the expense of subsistence farmers who largely are women. Technology helps in increasing yields, generating incomes, while supporting trade. However, it is important for policy makers to pay attention to its differentiated impact  that can perpetuate inequality.

It is through the  raised observations that we expect the  AfCFTA National Strategies  Committees  in Zimbabwe  to consult widely so as to mitigate  against  the inherent exclusion element that comes with novel technologies. FAO recommends   countries  ensure  they review  educational disparities, social — cultural norms, and  time poverty   to ensure women can embrace  new technological advancement skills  that will enable them to become competitive.

Studies by ECA confirm that smallholder female farmers in particular could benefit from opportunities to integrate their activities into regional agricultural value chains and higher value-added agro-processing activities if they have access to technology.

Training for female farmers in capital-intensive activities in commercial agriculture; sanitary and phytosanitary skills development to access continental markets,  deliberate  adoption of  STEM by women and young girls at schools and  tertiary becomes part of  the  constraint  specific  gender intervention measure to ensure a holistic implementation of the AfCFTA that will be all inclusive.

It is in the context of the foregoing that as a country,  women  participation in agricultures must not be overlooked. As seed conservers and  custodians of traditional local knowledge in  farming, their  acumen  in agriculture should be combined with agro ecological science  as a means  towards  sustaining  agricultural innovation.

Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu president of OWITZIMBABWE: MBA/UNCTAD: Trade and Gender Linkages/ IAC Dip/Cert: Trade in Services and SDGs: Robert Schuman Center of Advanced Studies/IDEPCert: Making the African Continental Free Trade Agreement Work. She writes in her personal capacity. For more on trade matters visit her Blog on website: