Most women traders across Africa continue to face harassment, extortion, unecessary tariff and non-tariff barriers during trade with Liberia being no exception. To address these trade-related barriers Liberian women are confronted with, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, with support from UN Women and UNDP conducted a one-day regional consultation on Women In Trade.
The consultation which was held on Monday, November 15, 2021, simultaneously at four (4) regional locations – Bong, Bomi, Grand Bassa and Maryland Counties with participants converging from nearby counties, provided a platform for women to voice their needs and interests with regard to trade in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, and for women to fully own the AfCFTA and embrace the economic opportunities it avails so that it can drive socioeconomic transformation across the continent.
In 2018 of March, African leaders first adopted the AfCFTA, with 54 of the AU member states signing, including Liberia.
This agreement that became operational in January 2021 was hinged amongst others removing tariffs from 90% of goods, creating a single market, deepening the economic integration of the continent, establishing a liberalised market through multiple rounds of negotiations and to aid the movement of capital and people.
In separate remarks at the Buchanan Consultation, Deputy Minister for Gender, Hon. Alice Johnson Howard, applauded both UN Women and UNDP for the support. She described the sensitization initiative as very essential to equipping women entrepreneurs and women in cross-border trade. Min. Johnson-Howard called on the participants to take advantage of the meeting so as to get updated with the trade protocol within the region. In addition, UNDP Representative Vivian Neejay Innis acknowledged the importance of the consultations. She indicated that such meeting are vital in empowering women entrepreneurs with knowledge that would help promote their vibrancy in cross-border trade.
While in Gbarnga, the Assistant Commerce Minister for Small Business Administration Hon. Angel R. Banda told the gathering that the outcomes from the Consultation will feed into an Africa-wide process to develop a protocol for women in cross-border trade that will be discussed and possibly adopted at a continental meeting of women in trade on AfCFTA scheduled for February 2022. “Once this is done, Liberian businesses can officially begin to trade in the continental free trade area, which will contribute to the achieving of gender equality and empowering all women and girls, in order to reach a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Liberia within the context of the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals”, the Assistant Commerce Minister stated.
For his part, Mohammed O. Massalee – the Technical Assistant in the office of the Deputy Minister for Gender told the participants that the government of Liberia is cognizant of role women often play in keeping the fabric of society together. He stated that women are making a great difference in trade-related activities despite the hurdles and challenges that they face in conducting
their businesses as traders, cross-border women and/or exporters. “The way women trade, the difficulties they go through, the harassment encountered at borders and the rules they abide by that you all have little or no understanding of must be heard. Your voices must come out. The outcome of this mission will be tie together to a final document representing your voice and then presented at the Parliament, the African Union and the International Community for consideration”, noted Mr. Massalee.
Participants were drawn based on regions from 14 of the 15 counties. Bomi county hosted Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties while Bong served as host for Lofa and Nimba counties. Grand Bassa hosted Margibi, River Cess and Sinoe counties. Maryland County hosted participants from Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru and River Gee counties.
The National Consultation on Women in Trade is expected to take place on November 24 of this year. Montserrado County will host the National Consultation.