The heart of the matter: Gender equality lies 'at the heart' of processes establishing the new open trade era in Africa, said one of its architects.

Author:Muchanga, Albert M.

Ambassador Albert M. Muchanga of Zambia, the African Union's Commisioner for Trade and Industry, is a driving force behind the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). His watchword is 'inclusion' - making sure the new trading arrangement between African nations boost the economic opportunities of poor people, young people and women. Commissioner Muchanga, who gave a keynote address at ITC's SheTrades Global meeting in Addis Ababa in November, took the time to address the specific area of women's economic empowerment in Africa and the dawn of the AfCFTA era.

How can women benefit from the trading regime of the AfCFTA?

AMBASSADOR MUCHANGA: African women are a very powerful but untapped economic force. They will play a key role in the battle to address the developmental challenges that Africa currently faces. However, the current challenges that women face from the privacy of the household to the public sphere of politics, are a major detriment to the continent's socioeconomic development.

We cannot have sustainable development without inclusivity. In this respect, increasing women's incomes is an important investment. Research shows that women are more in control over household resources, and tend to spend more on food, better health and schooling for their children. From all this, one can confidently say that when you empower a woman, you empower a family. Nationally, when you empower women, you empower a nation. Continentally, when you empower African women, you empower Africa as a continent.

How can the AfCFTA be a vehicle to promote women's economic empowerment?

AMBASSADOR MUCHANGA: One of the general objectives of the AfCFTA as outlined in Article 3 (e) of the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA is to: "promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the third parties." Thus, ensuring that gender equality is promoted in all processes of the AfCFTA is at the heart of the agreement establishing the AfCFTA. I will provide a few examples to support this:

First: the Rules of Origin that will support the AfCFTA Agreement permit access to cheaper raw materials and intermediate inputs. In this respect, women participating in regional value chains would be able to produce goods and services with significant African content in terms of raw materials and value addition, and export them either as finished products or intermediate goods.

Second: the criteria...

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