Human Rights

Gender Mainstreaming in African Trade: From Conceptualization to Concretization

Women play a vital role in cross-border trade in Africa and are explicitly recognized under the SDG 5 (gender equality) and Agenda 2063 of African Union (AU) that targets a prosperous and comprehensive development of Africa.[i] Again and again, women traders face diverse non-tariff barriers (NTBs) in cross-border trade ranging from customs restrictions and confiscation of goods, extortions, restrictive practices, paucity of fund, discrimination to unpredictable institutional environment.[ii] Although several regional economic communities (RECs) recognize the significance of gender considerations in their agreements,[iii] this has not eliminated the underlying constraints. The emergence of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with accompanying business opportunities reinforces the significance of strengthening gender mainstreaming in African trade to enable women to maximally benefit from AfCFTA. [iv] Article 3(e) of the AfCFTA Agreement recognizes the imperative of gender equality as a part of AfCFTA objectives, while Article 27(d) of the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade in Services seeks to improve the export capacity of formal and informal service suppliers, including women suppliers. While the preceding seems promising, experience however shows that mere recognition of gender-based principles without more concrete steps does not eliminate the underlying barriers. Indeed, concretization of such principles is fundamental.

Mainstreaming Gender in Trade for Development

Gender mainstreaming contextually refers to prioritization of the interests of women in the formal and informal sectors of the economy through legal, institutional and policy frameworks that eliminate barriers encountered in their businesses and support their development. This involves identification and elimination of ‘gender-specific barriers confronting female traders, producers, entrepreneurs, and wage-workers’[v] in all sectors of the economy. Such supportive implementation avowedly should conform to the precepts of sustainable development and the underlying SDGs. Hence, entrenching gender-sensitive policies through proactive interventions to assist women in businesses can catalyze their businesses making them more competitive, productive and profitable. This in turn raises their living standards thereby contributing to the realization of SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (improved nutrition), and SDG 3 (good health and well-being), among others. Consequently, the most critical areas for legal, institutional and policy intervention are proffered.

Critical Intervention

Critical areas for intervention to mainstream gender in trade involve both national and continental strategies. Each country needs an assistive roadmap to help women in businesses, given that the concretization of gender-supportive principles occurs at the national level. At the continental level, strategies should transcend mere conceptualizations of supportive principles to monitoring of the national performances and request for improved outcome in these critical areas.

Accordingly, zero interest loans should be offered to women businesses to make them more competitive compared to men’s businesses. A greater percentage of African women spend their time and resources in household chores thereby depriving them of substantial savings, improved skills and opportunities. Hence, interest-free loans should be implemented under the national strategies to help women optimize AfCFTA opportunities.

Arguably, zero-tax should be offered to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) – with lower financial threshold – operated by women to improve their business environment. This requirement should extend to free registration of their MSMEs to encourage seamless participation in the business of their choice and competence.

Moreover, capacity building should be offered to willing participants. Low-skilled business women should be able to benefit from capacity support (that is freely offered) to navigate the maze of business environment. This is achievable through enhanced sensitization on business opportunities and the underlying prerequisites for participation and success.

In the final analysis, monitoring and data collection of existing frameworks (at the national, regional and continental level) are necessary to know what is working or otherwise, with a view to possible recalibration to achieve the desired outcomes.


Gender mainstreaming in trade should transcend mere recognition of principles to practical implementation to reduce gender disparities. This can be achieved by implementing national and continental strategies that promote gender equality and eliminate existing barriers faced by women in cross-border trade through assistive policies including interest-free loans, zero tax policy and capacity building.

Dr Collins C. Ajibo is a Georg Forster Research Fellow awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The author currently is being hosted by the Chair of African Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, Business and Economics, University of Bayreuth, Germany. He holds a PhD and a LLM from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. A senior lecturer at the faculty of law, university of Nigeria (where he obtained a LLB), the author is also a solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. This research is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as part of the Georg Forster Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers awarded to the author.

[i] Caroline Dommen, ‘Mainstreaming Gender in Trade Policy: Practice, evidence, and ways forward’ (2021) IISD Report 1-6.

[ii] ECDPM, ‘A ‘business unusual’ approach for gender equality under the AfCFTA’ (2020) Great Insights magazine, accessed 08 December 2022.

[iii] Lolita Laperle-Forget, ‘Gender Provisions in African Trade Agreements: What Commitments Are There For Reconciling Gender Equality and Trade?’ (2022) Tralac,, accessed 08 December 2022.

[iv] Collins C. Ajibo, ‘African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement: the Euphoria, Pitfalls and Prospects’ (2019) 53(5) Journal of World Trade 871.

[v] Nadira Bayat and David Luke, ‘Gender Mainstreaming in AfCFTA National Strategies: Why it Matters for the SDGs’ (2020) IISD,, accessed 08 December 2022.


By Dr Collins C. Ajibo

Dr Collins Chikodili Ajibo holds a PhD and LLM from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. He is a Georg Forster Research Fellow.

One reply on “Gender Mainstreaming in African Trade: From Conceptualization to Concretization

Interesting perspective. There is indeed the need to rethink the position and status of women on the African trade platform.

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