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Investing in women’s ability to do business makes sense

Kikuubo is one of East Africa’s most important trade hubs, handling goods from across the region and the world. An estimated 10,000 women work as small-scale traders in the area, making it a fitting setting for the launch of a new initiative aimed at empowering women who drive Uganda’s trading economy. Announced in July by Uganda’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Amelia Kyambadde and launched 15th October in Nairobi as part of wider regional program, TradeMark’s East Africa (TMEA) Women and Trade program will partner with Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd (UWEAL)—targeting 4,000 female traders in and around Kampala, Mukono and Jinja.
The programme will give women information and training about the East African Community (EAC) import and export procedures, how to access markets in the EAC and amplify their voices so that they can participate in national and regional trade policy. It also aims to work with 400 women-owned light manufacturing businesses that add value to products e.g. process honey, juice, nuts, herbals and other products, helping them to form sector based cooperatives to address non-tariff barriers, enhance standards for their products and access new market linkages within the region, with an end goal of increasing exports from this market segment by 10 per cent by the end of 2016.
Women in Uganda—as in much of Africa—find it more difficult to access resources and opportunities than men. They are often less able to obtain credit, land rights and education, creating huge impediments to starting and expanding a business. Many women who do run enterprises do so in the informal sector, where they are unlikely to ever grow to scale, or participate more broadly in the economy. Uganda’s key export businesses, in particular those in the agriculture sector, rely on women in the labour force, but very few women own the trading or production companies.
It then goes without saying that investing in women’s ability to do business makes sense. The World Bank’s 2005 Gender and Growth Assessment report showed that eliminating gender-based barriers to growth could increase annual gross domestic product growth by up to 2 percent; a further study by the Copenhagen Business School showed that each $1 spent on improving women’s access to economic opportunity returns $7 worth of impact.
Female entrepreneurs also feel the constraints of doing business in East Africa more acutely than their male counterparts, which has implications for Uganda’s own economic growth. Not only are they less likely to expand, creating employment and tax revenues, but enterprises owned by women are less likely to participate in regional initiatives to promote more cross-border business within the EAC. High non-tariff barriers, lack of information and high cost of finance have held businesses back from expanding throughout the EAC. For women traders, these challenges are magnified.
Information is a huge challenge. Research conducted by TMEA showed that 59 percent of the female urban traders, and 36 percent of women-owned light processing businesses that were surveyed only had vague to no knowledge of what the EAC means; 68 percent of both groups were generally unaware of the initiatives being put in place to increase their access to markets, and the same amount did not see any gains from the EAC to their business. It is vital that women fully participate in the opportunities that come from the integration of the EAC’s
economies, so it is important that policies aimed at uplifting entrepreneurs and bringing them into regional markets take into account the specific needs of women. One way to do this is to bring more female voices into policymaking, but unfortunately, there are still many institutional, cultural and practical barriers that prevent women from participating in national and regional debates over the policies that could help them to succeed more as entrepreneurs.
TMEA is focused on reducing the cost and time of doing business in East Africa, as well as expanding opportunities for trade through enhanced regulation, improving exporters’ capabilities and building better logistics. In recognition of the importance of improving opportunities for women entrepreneurs, TMEA is working with UWEAL to equip women in business with the skills and networks to grow their exports across East Africa; and to amplify the voice of women in national and regional policy debates.
We will do this by helping women in trade to better understand the regulations and procedures that govern the EAC—through advisory services, business hubs; training support and market linkages —so that they can both exploit its open borders and be better equipped to influence the direction of policymaking.
At the end of our project, we expect to see women in trade increase their exports in the region by 10 percent; and that they visibly shape national and regional policy. This is an investment worth making—TMEA-Uganda $500,000 investment should produce $3.5 million worth of benefits, and give thousands of women the opportunity to not only join but lead Uganda’s development within the EAC.
Source: TradeMark East Africa (TMEA)

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