Human Rights

AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade: A Review


The Protocol on Women and Youth in trade (PWYT) is path-breaking given that it improves upon most of the existing regional trade agreements (RTAs) which do not incorporate specific protocol or chapter on women and youth in trade.[1] The PWYT follows the trajectory of existing protocols and instruments under the African Union (AU) regime.[2] Hence, the preamble emphasizes the desire of the contracting parties to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development pursuant to objectives of the AfCFTA under Article 3 (e) of the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA. Arguably, the PWYT provides opportunities for women and youth in Africa to trade out of poverty. Nevertheless, the greatest challenges to the success of the PWYT will be implementation. Most national authorities may not prioritize the interests of women and youth in trade. Accordingly, trade barriers, capacity and financing constraints will continue to hamper intra-African trade in this regard unless implementation efforts target these challenges.

Basic Framework

Like the other protocols (e.g. goods and services), the PWYT seeks to achieve African development in integrated and inclusive way. The PWYT does this by mainstreaming gender and youth in trade.[3] While the general objective of the PWYT supports the implementation of the AfCFTA, the specific objectives are to support the participation of women and youth in trade; strengthen the capacity of and access to opportunities for women and youth in trade; and related matters.[4]

            Article 3 of the PWYT stipulates that the PWYT applies to all trade policies, activities, and interventions that support Women and Youth in Trade within the framework of the AfCFTA. By restricting the PWYT to ‘trade policies, activities, and interventions that support Women and Youth in Trade’, the PWYT implicitly excludes ‘investment policies, activities, and interventions that support Women and Youth in Investment’.

             Apart from being governed by principles stipulated in Article 5 of the AfCFTA Agreement (e.g. variable geometry), the PWYT is also governed by mores specific principles such as: (1) affirmative action; (2) elimination of discrimination against Women and Youth in intra-African trade; (3) equality for Women and Youth in Trade; and (4) inclusiveness.

Moreover, the PWYT is committed to inclusive socio-economic development of women and youth in trade, as well as empowerment of women and youth in trade; elimination of discriminatory regimes; education and sensitization programmes; and access to finance.[5]

Gender and Youth Supportive Policies

The PWYT provides veritable ground to implement gender-and youth-sensitive policies to assist women and youth in businesses to be more competitive, productive and profitable. Arguably, successive governments in Africa have not shown penchant for prioritizing the interests of women and youth. Robust implementation of the PWYT will contribute significantly to lowering fragility and conflict-affected situations in Africa. Supportive policies involve the following.

First, women and youth need supportive finance in their businesses. Although the PWYT provides for financing, banks will be slow to lend out because of the propensity of business failure and low collateral. Hence, interest-free loans should be implemented under the national and regional guarantee scheme by the government in case of failure to repay. This will help women and youth to optimize the AfCFTA opportunities.

Secondly, there should be pro-business tax policy. Cross-border businesses face multiple taxes and charges across many frontiers which undermine their business. If possible, tax holiday should be granted to MSMEs (with lower financial threshold) operated by women and youth to improve their business environment. The preceding extends to free registration of businesses to encourage seamless participation in trade.

Moreover, capacity building and technical assistance provided in the PWYT should be concretized. Both the national regulatory authorities and the AfCFTA secretariat are strategically positioned to achieve these objectives. Similarly, regional and global standard-setting institutions (e.g. UNECA and UNCTAD) can assist in capacity building and utilization as well as technical assistance to women and youth in trade. Low-skilled business women should be able to benefit from capacity support and assistance to navigate the maze of business environment. This is achievable through enhanced sensitization on business opportunities and the underlying prerequisites for participation and success.

Additionally, cross-border traders face multiple barriers involving both regulatory and non-regulatory barriers. These barriers are part of the broader challenges that undermine cross-border trade and therefore not exclusive to PWYT. Hence, State Parties must address internet penetration and ICT-related coverage, transport infrastructure, agriculture-traders-industry’s synergy, infrastructural constraints and participation of women and youth in national-regional-global value chain trade. Women and youth in trade must be mainstreamed in supply chain trade to benefit maximally from the implementation of the PWYT.

In the finally analysis, monitoring and data collection, as well as sharing of experiences from other economic integrations, are necessary to assist law and policy makers to recalibrate, where necessary, to achieve the desired outcomes.


The PWYT is path-breaking given that it improves upon the existing RTAs which, in most cases, do not incorporate specific protocol or chapter on women and youth in trade. The PWTY incorporates wide-ranging provisions to enhance the capacity of women and youth to participate in intra-African trade under the AfCFTA. The success of PWYT therefore is dependent on the implementation of gender-and youth-supportive policies.

* PhD & LLM Manchester, Lecturer University of Nigeria. This research is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany, as part of the return fellowship grant.

[1] UNECA, “Africa leads the way on inclusivity and trade: Welcoming the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade at International Women’s Day 2024” (2024), <,structural%20transformation%20of%20African%20economies> accessed 08 June 2024.

[2] Collins C. Ajibo, The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement: Legal and Policy Frameworks (Routledge 2024).

[3] Collins C. Ajibo, “Gender Mainstreaming in African Trade: From Conceptualization to Concretization” (2022) African Legal Studies Blog Bayreuth, <>, accessed 08 June 2024.

[4] Article 2 of PWYT.

[5] Part III of PWYT.


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.

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