By Patrick Jaramogi
The East African partner states need to harmonise laws that increase access of credit to women, activists have said.
Women entrepreneurs from Kenya and Uganda operating small, medium and large scale enterprises observed that despite the formulation of the East African Common Market protocol, laws, regulations and practices that hinder women access to financial assistance are still present.
The women under the Women and Girls Empowerment project (WOGE) echoed their concerns during an advocacy meeting organised by the East African sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) at the Blue York Hotel in Busia recently.
EASSI is a regional civil society organisation advocating for effective mechanisms for the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality.
Fridah Oyugah, the chairperson Wamama pamoja (Funyula) Samia group, noted that many women operating along the borders have been empowered, but added that more sensitisation is needed.
A woman working at a stone quarry for a living
She said although the regional governments have eased movement across borders, a lot still needs to be done to promote free movement of people and goods
“As women cross border traders, we still face hurdles while crossing with our merchandise. Issues of clearance at the customs border point still dog the process,” she said.
Oyugah observed that despite the customs union and common market protocol, the borders in Busia and Malaba are always congested due bureaucratic clearing procedures.
“It is such procedures that force many cross border women to engage in smuggling,” she observed. Mwajuma Bahati Toloyi from Nambale constituency in Nambale town said the process of empowering women in business is encumbered by the tedious paperwork that is required.
“EASSI has done its best to empower women, but the EAC states need to do more for women to benefit from the EAC common market protocol,” she said.
Kenya deputy commissioner Valentine Cherono urged the cross border women traders to be vigilant when doing business.
“As we trade, we need to be aware of security because with - out security we cannot have peace,” she said.
She urged Kenyans customs officers at the border to handle foreigners with care.
“Busia is the face of Kenya. The number of visitors we get from Uganda, South Sudan and DRC will be determined by the way you treat them when they enter through Busia,” she noted.
Busia resident district commissioner Hussein Batanda noted that empowering women is the main way of ad - dressing poverty at the house - hold level.
“The Government will continue to work with organisations such as EASSI that empower women and girls. Once we empower the women, who contribute 65% of production, then poverty will be eradicated,” he said.
EASSI executive director Marren Bukachi said the project has helped over 1,200 women form groups to have a collective voice.
“The women now have practical skills to do business. They have been empowered to produce, and we are now helping them get market access in the region,” Bukachi said.
Elizabeth Ampairwe the EASSI WOGE coordinator, said over 6,000 rural women from the border districts of Busia, Rakai and Kabale will be financially empowered with funds from the Netherlands government in the next four years.
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Expand women''s access to financial services, EAC told