• Plot 3565, Kulambiro, Uganda
  • +256(0)393266451
  • East Africa borders

Empowering Women Informal Cross Border Traders in the East African Common Market

Women Informal Cross Border Traders largely use un-gazetted border crossing routes despite the integration of the East African Countries and coming of the Customs Union and Common Market Protocols. There was need to identify how the provisions in the Customs Union and Common Market Protocols can be exploited in order to increase women’s trade volume, reduce transaction costs and eliminate the non-tariff barriers – #eliminateNTBs, which remain obstacles to trade. This project was supported by Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA).

The project recognized that trade policy reform in the East African Community (EAC) region, although largely focused at the formal economy, should benefit women informal cross border traders in the informal economy. The rationale of the project was that a link exists between trade, gender and livelihood security, recognizing that trade holds the political key to poverty reduction thereby guaranteeing secured livelihoods. This project built on the Engendering Wealth Creation in the East African Community, the one year pilot project was supported by DFID.


Situation of Women Informal Cross Border Traders

  • The marital status of the women informal cross border traders has implications for the timing, duration and venues of EASSI.
  • Limited funds. This was most acute among the widows, single and separated women respectively.
  • Over 50% of women cross border traders have not completed secondary education. The varied schooling levels call for tailor made training sessions. In addition, the type of training materials used and language of instruction has to vary accordingly.
  • The primary economic activity for most (68%) women informal cross border traders (WICBTs) is cross border trading followed by retail trading.  42% of the women informal cross border traders are trading in agricultural products, followed by textiles (21.5%) and consumables (18.5%). This was the common trend at most border posts except Kanyaru border where the women mainly traded in textiles.

Experiences of the Women Informal Cross Border Traders

  • Certificates of origin are issued free at all border posts for goods that are worth US $2,000 or less.
  • 39% of women are weekly traders while 28% and 27% traded across borders daily and monthly respectively.
  • Many women traders are frequently crossing borders because they are dealing in small quantities of goods. Frequent border crossings are inefficient as they entail high operational costs and expose women to undue exploitation.
  • 72% of the women traders reported that they were stopped at least twice for checking before reaching the markets. Among these, 34% were stopped thrice. Stopping for checks is not bad if they are for genuine reasons and are professionally done. The only concern is the time involved in such checks and the effect they have on the women and the perishable products.
  • 48.5% of the women spent less than an hour at customs clearing their products. This saves the women the precious time since it has been well documented that they suffer due to loss of time.
  • 46.4% of women possess capital trading.

Challenges Informal Women traders face in the EAC Common Market

  • Limited access to information of trade and low literacy levels.
  • Rampant cases of sexual harassment, torture and wrongful arrests among women.
  • Poor infrastructure
  • Women have not fully embraced the EAC Protocols because the provisions stipulating financial gains are not yet valid.
  • Inaccessibility to finances
  • Rampant cases of armed conflict at the borders causing women to stop trading since they fear for their lives.
  • Poor border coordination by the revenue authority and unfair/discriminatory tax levies, where the rich get low levy in comparison to the poor.
  • High exploitation of women by the agents at the borders due to their ignorance.

Project Goal

To increase trading opportunities for women informal cross border traders in the East African Common market.

Project Outcomes

  • Enhanced coordination of support efforts to women in trade industry at policy level.
  • Improved knowledge of trade issues among women traders in the EAC partner states.
  • Established Women in Business Associations at local, national and regional level.

Key activities included

  • Capacity building workshops for women informal cross border traders.
  • Formation/strengthening of Women Informal Cross Border Traders (WICBT) associations.
  • Media programme that enables information dissemination and sensitization about gender and trade.
  • Action research to inform policy
  • Development of a Gender Barometer to act as a tool to monitor implementation of gender issues in the region.
  • Working with EAC and respective governments to put in place an East African Community Protocol on Gender Equality.
  • Established and maintained information resource centers to enable traders access information on cross border trade and improved business relations between tax and traders.