Why we need all hands-on-deck for women in the AfCFTA

Happy Africa Day! As we celebrate this great and historic day, I am moved to reflect on the prospects of the African woman.

May 26, 2023

Now, more than ever before, there is the dawn of a new possibility: of a future of thriving business enterprises and opportunities. Of creating the products that Africans need across the continent – and of leaving the margins characterized by informality, and entering centre – stage of the African market terrain.

Before the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), it was possible to have hope – but the architecture to dress that hope – for a regional integration – based continental market, was missing. Now, with the world’s largest trade zone, by virtue of participating countries, the AfCFTA heralds the dawn of a single market - for goods and services – capable of boosting intra-African trade, increasing investment, and driving socioeconomic transformation for the women of Africa. 

Now, none of this will be automatic. UNDP has invested in national consultations across 27 countries – together with UN Women and the AfCFTA Secretariat. And our findings, documented in a ground – breaking report: The Engine of Trade in Africa – confirm that women have very high fences to scale to get to the promised land of an AfCFTA – driven thriving enterprise. 

Infrastructure bottlenecks, inaccess to affordable finance, discriminatory laws and regulations, non – ownership of productive resources, the complexity of trade information and jargon, ever changing rules for export trade – are but some of the challenges women face. And yet, all of these are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine – both mounting disproportionate impacts on women’s economic opportunities and social welfare.

And so, we must step up action: in creating enabling environments, offering affordable trade finance, and investing in the infrastructure of trade.

We must also redouble our investments – in the type of trade capacity building that unlocks the specific challenges women face in critical value chains.

At UNDP, we are now in our 3rd year walking this path of a new approach to empowering women for the AfCFTA. Our work has reached 3500 SMEs – 46% of whom are women. We want to do more and are challenging ourselves to double that. This is why I was so proud to join the AfCFTA Secretariat, at the inaugural AfCFTA Business Forum, to launch HERAfCFTA – together with all of those powerful women leaders in trade. Our pledge is to invest, consistently, in supercharging export readiness.

We are starting to see something different: in Uganda’s women exporters – who are pressing for markets for their wines and textiles alike; in the energy that characterizes business to business connections – as we have seen first with Uganda and South Africa, and then with the #GhanaExpoinKE. In Mauritius, a women-led focus to positioning to win in the AfCFTA is gaining momentum – with private sector. And in Ghana, we have seen, firsthand, women from the Tamale region in the north, multiplying their exports to the US, thanks to some of UNDP’s investments in supporting them to attain certification, as well as investing in machines that allow for the women to increase their productivity.

No one can do this alone. This is why HERAfCFTA is about partnerships of impact. We must remain resolute in securing this victory. And so, as we look ahead in this year that the African Union has dedicated to the AfCFTA, I call on all development actors to invest in building a successful future for women in the One African Market. Let us have all hands-on-deck for Africa’s women in the AfCFTA.