Women are indeed in a vulnerable position while engaging in cross border trade yet they are the key bread winners for their households
By Catherine Yvonne Zalwango
World over, women face numerous challenges in various fields and trade is not any different. Previously, women in Cross Border trade had to manoeuvre several challenges making it hard for them to favourably compete with their male counterparts.
These included insufficient capital, absence of storage facilities for their goods (often perishables), inadequate access to trade information and limited market for their products.
Research by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), (2018) notes that informal cross-border trade is still rampant at over 40% of all intra-regional trade. Women compose up to 80% of all informal cross-border traders. Small cross border trade is characterized with a lot of smuggling and dominated by a lot of challenges like harassment and confiscation of products.
Evidence from several surveys conducted by international organizations has corroborated that women are indeed in a vulnerable position while engaging in cross border trade yet they are the key bread winners for their households. However, not all hope is lost.
In July 2018, the Minister of Trade launched the URA Women Traders’ Initiative in Busia with an intention to address challenges faced by women traders and to assimilate gender impartiality in the reforms and modernization agenda. This instrument has provided a comprehensive and all-encompassing approach to trade facilitation, with a feminine touch.
Thus far, 34 associations of Women Cross Border Traders have been established with a sounding membership of over 5,032 members.
At the core of the framework is simplification of customs clearance processes and procedures as well as building working relationships with women traders to foster a better business environment.
To further ease their trade processes, desks specifically dedicated to serving women have been set up at five One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) i.e. Malaba, Busia, Elegu, Mutukula and Mirama Hills.
This dedicated service has led to a remarkable reduction in the time women in trade at the border take to receive URA services and to have their goods cleared.
Free storage facilities for the small scale women traders who in the past couldn’t meet storage costs have also been availed.
Continuous trainings in line with the needs and requests of the members in these associations is also another approach URA implements in this initiative.
With more to be done, there is already an increase in women participation in trade as well as the clearing and forwarding world.
Women now have a stronger voice to air out their concerns and the opportunity to tap into opportunities availed by the East African Community (EAC) integration.
Ms Angela Nafula, the secretary Tukolere Wamu Women’s Group located in Mutukula disclosed that the traders within the association can now ably compete on regional and international markets.
There is a notable surge in compliance levels among members; some of whom were formerly perpetual cross border smugglers.
Ms Margaret Auma, the Chairperson Elegu Women’s Cross Border Trader’s Savings and Credit Society intimated that through their association, the women traders have now formed a SACCO through which financial support can easily be sought. Advance loans are accessible to members for productive purposes as per governing SACCO laws.
There’s amplified knowledge, information and skills sharing in trade and trade procedures among the members which is a result of the continuous trainings offered by the Authority.
With support from partners, the culture of entrepreneurship and cross border trade among members has been upheld, by providing business extension, marketing services, and other opportunities to start or expand business of members both individuals and groups.
Women in cross border trade now enjoy easy access to trade documents like Certificates of origin, and use of the simplified regime among others.
In the foreseeable future as this Customs Women Traders’ Facilitation Initiative gains momentum with support of partners like Trade Mark East Africa, change in compliance behaviour is to be seen and more Revenue will be realised from women’s involvement in cross border trade.
The writer works with the Public and Corporate Affairs Division of Uganda Revenue Authority