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AfCFTA’s Women and Youth in Trade Protocol Approved

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat recently adopted the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade in efforts to create far-reaching business policies that would guide booming trade within the continent, and ensure equal participation in rewarding trade activities.

Speaking during a press briefing held at the AUC headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the AU Summit, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, said that it’s important to prioritise women and youth in the agreement because they make up more than 50% of the African population, and are more affected by poverty and unemployment.

Mene, who has been re-appointed to his position on a five-year term, said that the Protocol on Women and Youth would help to remove the barriers that women and youth have previously faced in trade and ensure that there is legislation in place that drives mechanisms to ensure that they have equal business opportunities, not only within their home countries but also across the continent and overseas.

Mene further said that the AfCFTA Agreement encourages equalised trade, hence the formation of the protocol in accordance with the AU’s Agenda 2063, which strives to achieve equality in trade.

“We are currently working with individual countries’ customs bodies, ministries and trade committees to enable assessment of the situation on the ground, and moving with the consensus, to refine the protocol and ensure that its implementation is smooth and impactful, and eliminates barriers to intra-trade,” he said.

Mene explained that the protocol moves Africa beyond the desire to see women and youth active in continental trade, and takes these aspirations to reality. He expressed pride that the protocol is the first of its kind in the world to deliver gender equality to business and trade opportunities.

“The SMME sector in Africa is dominated by women and youth, and we have put measures in place to ensure that they have access to opportunities and actually bind it to law,” he said. “The adoption of the Protocol for Women and Youth in AfCFTA into law by member countries is one that we hope to see achieve impactful results with booming intra-trade activity.”

Mene added that intra-trade in Africa is showing commendable growth and, contrary to widespread perception, there is solid intra-trade happening in Africa.

“For example, you would look at how Ghana is exporting ceramics to Cameroon, how South Africa exports from Durban to Kenya ports and Uganda exports milk to neighbouring countries and so forth. “Also, some African countries are part of AGOA and import products to the USA. “The situation is not perfect but efforts are being made, and we help individual countries develop a roadmap that will substantially help identify and improve trade opportunities,” he said. “We are making good efforts to close the existing trade gaps and build strong local economies.”

Mene’s views were echoed by Nardos Bekele-Thomas, CEO of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), who said that bolstering the informal sector and micro-economy could improve the livelihoods of women and girls. She further said that it is important for development programmes in all African countries to be harmonised for efficiency.

“Africa should have a single road map for all programmes to address the challenges so that we face and avoid fragmentation,” she said.

She cited how manufacturing and industrialisation can take advantage of growth periods, expressing confidence in infrastructural development in the energy sector, as an example. “Electrification is important to Africa and it would be good for Africa to have a single sustainable energy market,” she said.

Bekele-Thomas said that NEPAD has been doing groundwork to encourage trade among Africans. She added that AFCTA is helping to unlock the opportunities in the business and trade landscape.

“The one-stop border post system is an example of a beckoning open market in Africa that is democratic. “Intra-trade holds many opportunities for Africans…We will see less poverty and migration – we will see people running viable enterprises in their communities and contributing to the development of Africa,” she said.

As the economy grows, there is also a need to improve education and skills training. As Bekele-Thomas pointed out in line with the AU’s theme of ‘Education’ for 2024, NEPAD is looking into supporting efforts geared at ensuring that Africans access key skills development that are relevant to the current economic and social systems.

In Southern Africa for example, the Accelerating Women-Owned Micro Enterprises programme has equipped more than 2,400 women who own micro-enterprises in Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia with the skills needed to improve their businesses.

The programme, which was recently renamed EntreprenHER, is cemented on the principle of ‘Leaving No One Behind’, by focusing on micro-enterprises owned by women entrepreneurs to ensure that they create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their communities. About 460 female entrepreneurs from Botswana have already benefited from this programme.

Between 2024 and 2026, EntreprenHER aims to coach 1,500 women entrepreneurs to take their small businesses to the next level. The programme will also develop the entrepreneurs’ digital literacy skills and also teach climate-smart agriculture techniques to those in the farming sector. It also introduces women to platforms such as the United Nations (UN) Women’s BuyFromWomen, an e-commerce service for greater access to markets.

UN Women’s representative for the Southern Africa region, Aleta Miller, said that by bringing valuable business opportunities to startups, entrepreneurs improve their lives and uplift their communities.

“The programme is a vital tool for achieving gender equality under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). “If we are to achieve gender equality by 2030 as per the SDGs aspirations, then women must fully and meaningfully participate in the economy,” she said.

Keletso Thobega is an independent development journalist and a Fellow at the African Union (AU) Media Fellowship and the United Nations (UN) Health Reporting Fellowship. This news article originally appeared on Mmegi Online.

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