By Patrick Jaramogi
Majority of women traders in Uganda still engage in informal cross border trade despite the integration of the East African countries and the coming into force of the Customs Union and Common market protocol,a new survey has indicated.
The survey conducted by the Eastern African Sub regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) in the border points of Mutukula, Katuna, and Busia showed that most women still use ungazetted border crossing routes (panya) while trading.
“It is sad that many years into coming in force of the Common Market protocol, many of us still face many challenges while conducting the cross border trade,” said Hajjati Hadijja Serwanga the chairperson of the Uganda Women Cross Boarder Traders Association.
Serwanga pointed out that the women cross boarder traders are sexually harassed, charged prohibitive taxes by customs officials and tortured at the boarder points because they don’t understand the customs union.
“Majority of our traders are illiterate, they don’t understand the language used in the common market protocol. We are asked for $100 each time we cross the border with our goods such acts forces most women to evade the official border points” she said.
She was speaking during a one day national advocacy meeting on gender, trade and women empowerment in the EAC region that was held at hotel Africana. She said lack of banks at Mutukula border point was putting traders at risk of moving with money.
“Just last week one of our traders was robbed as he carried a basket of shs900m. Stanbic that was operating in Mutukula closed shop,” said Serwanga.
Abubaker Moki the Assistant Commissioner for Economic Affairs in the Ministry of East African Affairs (MEACA) said the sensitization has been on -going regarding the common market protocol and is still on-going.
“Majority of the women practicing cross border trade have low zero literacy levels and continue to depend on brokers to transact their businesses,,” said Moki. “Even with small quantities of goods small women traders still use “panya” routes which are risky and expensive.”
The EASSI executive director Marren Akatsa -Bukachi said the EAC common market should provide a basis for mainstreaming the needs and freedoms and rights of women within the region.
“Low awareness of the benefits and opportunities among the public is still a challenge,” she said.
Achieng Angela Barungi the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Customs Department International Supervisor urged the cross border women to report any form of extortion to the URA commissioner General.
“We have a desk at the commissioner Generals office to address such issues. She said all imports attract zero tariffs if they have a certificate of origin. “Most women traders are delayed at the border points because they don’t understand the requirements needed under the common market protocol,” said Achieng.