PUBLISHED ON January 4th, 2024

Let’s confront gender violence for women to prosper in trade

In the dynamic world of trade, where aspirations of growth and prosperity are painted on a vibrant canvas, there lurks an ominous spectre – Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

This silent adversary creeps into the fabric of trade, gnawing away at the potential of women entrepreneurs and obstructing the path to inclusivity. Recent dialogues, spearheaded by TradeMark Africa, following the culmination of 16 Days of Activism against GBV, echoed a resounding call to action.

Within the bustling corridors of trade, GBV emerges not merely as an obstacle but as an insurmountable impediment, inflicting profound physical, emotional, and financial wounds on women. Survivors grapple not just with the trauma of violence but also with societal stigma, limited access to essential services, and a dire absence of safe havens. The promise of empowerment through trade transmutes into a perilous odyssey veiled in fear and uncertainty for these individuals.

It’s imperative to acknowledge that women entrepreneurs across East Africa serve as the backbone of trade, constituting up to 70 per cent of informal cross-border traders.

However, they grapple with disproportionate challenges – from sexual harassment to physical violence impacting their pursuit of economic opportunities. This issue transcends regional borders, resonating across Africa and reverberating globally.

The World Bank reports that women’s involvement in trade remains hindered, with one in three women facing violence, often intersecting with their trade activities.

These statistics underscore that GBV not only hampers progress but inflicts profound wounds, rendering trade a perilous journey for survivors. This necessitates a societal shift, reshaping norms to cultivate a secure ecosystem for women.

Effective combat against GBV in trade demands collective efforts, from media sensitisation to empowering survivors through community-based responses. Strategic investments, financial and intellectual, are indispensable for driving progress towards the pivotal goal of SDG 5 on gender equality. Embracing digitisation for comprehensive data collection becomes paramount, evidenced by TradeMark Africa’s collaborative efforts across multiple levels—global, continental, regional, and local.

Additionally, empowering women traders with information access, advocating trade rights, and prioritising mental health discussions in GBV forums are pivotal milestones toward forging a violence-free trading environment. Moreso, strengthening collaborations, focusing on prevention, and addressing systemic challenges are critical in dismantling the shroud of GBV in trade.

At TradeMark Africa, we are proud to forge strategic partnerships and collaborations across various levels to combat GBV in trade. Our 2023 Strategy 3, “Building Sustainable and Inclusive Trade for Africa,” emphasises the correlation between women’s trade activities and vulnerability to intimate partner violence. This strategy is anchored on resilience and inclusive trade pillar, champions support for women and youth, fostering cross-border cooperatives, facilitating access to information and services, and advocating for inclusive trade reforms.

A broader continental perspective acknowledges the immense promise of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) but necessitates addressing Violence Against Women within trade spaces. Designating GBV as a national, regional, and continental disaster can spur crucial actions for change, countering emerging challenges like online abuse and incidents linked to transportation services.

After the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a decisive imperative emerges for UN Women, governments, private sectors, policymakers, interest groups, and development sector to prioritise voices of women, girls, and marginalised groups within trade frameworks.

We must empower women to craft and implement responses to GBV in trade, ensure their equitable participation and influence on outcomes. In pursuit of a violence-free trading sphere, let us heed the resounding calls for change. It’s not merely the future of trade in question; it’s the dignity, safety and potential of every woman venturing into commerce.

An inclusive and robust trade ecosystem necessitates a unified and strategic commitment from all stakeholders.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.