Unless a gender perspective is embraced in COVID-19 recovery initiatives, the ongoing global health pandemic will amplify existing gender disparities leading to worse outcomes for women in terms of livelihoods and well-being, according to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
This was said by Thokozile Ruzvidzo, Director of the Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division at the Economic Commission for Africa, in remarks made during a Gender is My Campaign, online campaign on the gendered effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ruzvidzo said COVID-19 recovery policy initiatives need to embrace a gender perspective to lessen deepening vulnerabilities of women, especially cross border traders.
"Women in African countries are in general concentrated in necessity-driven entrepreneurship in the services sector, market activities and cross-border trade in the informal economy. It is expected that the knock-on effects of border closures and market restrictions to deal with COVID-19 will be significant," she said.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Director added that women in the informal economy are more often found in the most vulnerable situations.
"Female predominance in informal cross-border trade is often attributed to women's time and mobility constraints, as well as to their limited access to productive resources and support systems, making such activities one of the few options available to them to earn a living" said Ruzvidzo.
She said the African Continental Free Trade Area presents new opportunities for women in Africa which can help in accelerating their economic empowerment in the aftermath of COVID-19 and related recovery efforts.
"Although there is no separate chapter on trade and gender in the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreem, the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement recognizes the importance of promoting gender equality," said Ruzvidzo as she highlighted various articles in the accord like Article 3(e) that specifies that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement aims to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation.
"Gender mainstreaming in Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement national implementation strategies is a key strategy to advance the objective of gender equality under the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement," said Ruzvidzo.
This requires the analysis of the various roles that women play in the economy, both formal and informal; understanding the different sectors in which they are concentrated; identifying opportunity sectors and products with high export potential; and recognizing that women traders and women-led businesses in the informal and formal sectors are diverse, requiring targeted policies and programmes on the basis of sex-disaggregated data and statistics.
Evidence-based interventions that tackle a range of barriers limiting women's capacity to participate in new economic and trade opportunities are also important, she added.
Ruzvidzo said measures needed to ensure women and men benefit equally in the implementation of Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement including, promoting access to finance/working
capital, facilitating market links and market information, mentorship, buyer and business network opportunities, targeted support for strategies to connect and enable female-led nterprises to compete in regional value chains. It as well support to include digital skills training as more regional value chain activities go digital as well as capacity-building and expertise training on export and import procedures, drafting export development plans, logistics management, developing international marketing strategies, and conducting export market research. It has specialized financial literacy, business and financial management training, particularly for female micro-entrepreneurs. And also it includes gender-responsive public procurement policies and programmes for women-owned businesses; and childcare services.
Ruzvidzo said women's groups like "Gender is My Campaign" have an important role to play in ensuring that women and men benefit equally from the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement through their advocacy role and as watchdogs. The "Gender is My Campaign" network and its partners this week started a new online campaign to showcase efforts by the African Union Commission and its member States as work towards COVID-19 recovery gathers momentum.