It is no longer news that thirty-six countries of the African Union have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement, a free trade area policy founded in 2018 to create a single continental market for goods and services. It promises to enable the free movement of business persons and investments while potentially being the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization. Despite the fact that there are several issues surrounding the optimistic success of the AFCFTA operation, gender mainstreaming is one of the most critical aspects that must not be ignored if we are to record great success in this endeavor. Gender mainstreaming according to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) can be described as “ is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic, and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality”. Now, let’s bring it down to the implementation and operationalization of AFCFTA, in order to encourage the active participation of both genders in the day-to-day operation and success of the AfCFTA program.
To begin with, I would like to quote a popular African proverb that talks about the need to start incorporating and engaging both genders in decision making: “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation”. The proverb speaks to the importance of investing in women while also doing that for men, for the collective development of society. It cannot be denied that the role of women in the public spaces and parastatals in Africa has for long been doubted and restricted by society’s interpretation of power along gender lines.
Gender mainstreaming should be seen as organizational change; hence, our perception of women’s capabilities needs to change for good, as it is obvious, women have been playing a leading role in shaping our nations. In history, discussions concerning international agreements, peacekeeping arrangements, and legal resolutions have been responsible for stereotypes that disempower women, thereby resulting in some sort of underdevelopment and snail-race growth in most African countries. For example, hardly will you find equal participation of women in top-level governance in Africa or even in any other part of the world, we rather prefer to leave them at home in our kitchens or in the “Other room”, another word for the bedroom as described by one of our leaders.
Another point to consider is that economic development is highly achieved when women enter the marketplace, as it has been proven that women’s economic participation decreases the dependency ratio and improves the proportion of wage earners to dependents. In addition, women’s participation in post-Covid nation-building is an important ingredient in achieving an equitable, peaceful, and more prosperous African society. For instance, if women are included in the labor force and implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, more families will be lifted out of the cycle of poverty, seeing that men alone can no longer cater to the financial needs of the family due to inflation, currency devaluation and globalization of skills.
For a very long time in our history as humans, society defined power, decision-making, and authority as terms that connote masculinity, therefore excluding women in the exercise of these very important social duties. But surprisingly, women-owned businesses have been said to be the world’s fastest-growing businesses around the world and most part of Africa, making significant contributions in the form of employment, innovation, and wealth generation. This can be seen in the businesses owned by Folorunsho Alakija- Nigeria, Bethlemen Tilahun- Ethiopia, Divine Ndhlukuka- Zimbabwe, Isabel Do Santos- Angola, Julian Adyeri- Uganda, Salwa Akhannouch- Morocco, Saran Kaba- Liberia, Sibongile Sambo- South Africa and Tabitha Karanja- Kenya. The involvement of the female gender in trade agreements will bring onboard diverse opinions and skills that women have shown over the years in other areas of economic and family development, which will help ensure a more prosperous continent we have long waited for.
In conclusion, in order to make the AFCFTA magic happen, gender mainstreaming must be top on the list of policies to embrace. Even though recently women have become actively involved in politics unlike before, nevertheless, they still face certain challenges that limit their chances and opportunities, which psychologically kills their morale. However, the role of women in our continent can be re-instated and accorded respect seeing that women entrepreneurs play a significant role in job creation, family upbringing, wealth, poverty reduction, education, and societal development, especially in developing countries. Therefore, a robust and consistent commitment to gender mainstreaming is an important and effective means for African nations to support the promotion of gender equality at all levels. This can happen in policy development, research, governance, and other societal empowerment activities, and to ensure that women, as well as men, can influence, participate and benefit from the AfCFTA development efforts.
The article was inspired by personal learnings and the AfCFTA Bootcamp/ knowledge-sharing session that took place in Arusha, Tanzania in November 2021, which I attended as the only delegate from Nigeria, and eventually led to my appointment as the West African Coordinator of the Independent Continental Youth Advisory Council on AfCFTA (ICOYACA), a pet project of Youlead Africa.
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