The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has called for close co-operation among countries in the region to enhance informal cross-border trade and improve conditions of women in the sector.
This came out at a high level meeting held in the capital attended by representatives from 12 SADC countries.
The call was made at a high-level SADC plenary session to craft strategies on informal cross border trade and to enhance womenâ€™s participation in the informal trade business.Â
Head of the SADC Gender Programme, Magdeleine Mothiba Medibele said individuals involved in informal cross-border trade, mostly women, are facing a myriad of challenges which need collective action to be resolved.
Zimbabweâ€™s Acting Minister of Womenâ€™s Affairs Gender and Community Development, Cde Sithembiso Nyoni said there is need for more strategic measures to be put in place to implement trade instruments in a gender sensitive manner.
The three-day SADC plenary meeting is being attended by permanent secretaries and delegates from 12 SADC member states.
Prominent persons including the widow of the late Zambian President, Mr Levy Mwnanwasa, Dr Maureen Mwanawasa from Zambia and Madam Zanele Mbeki, wife to former South African president, Cde Thabo Mbeki, are also attending.
Thousands of cross-border traders, mostly women pass from one country to another each day across the SADC region transporting a wide range of goods that include blankets, electrical gadgets, vehicle spares, kitchen utensils worth thousands of dollars in a bid to fend for their families.
The Economic Justice Network estimates that 60% of trade in the SADC community revolves around informal cross border trade and 50% of traders rely on this form of trade for income.
However, a significant amount of these traders risk their lives by sleeping in the open with poor or sometimes no sanitation facilities, while at the same time withstanding harassment from authorities.
It is against this background that representatives from 12 SADC countries are gathered in Harare for a 3-day high level plenary meeting on informal trade in a bid to map the future success of the sector.
Minister Nyoni says it is high time SADC governments recognise the contribution from cross border traders by setting up specific structures and implementing informal cross border trade policy.
â€œSome key recommendations are the need to do away with the dual categorisation of formal and informal traders as this disadvantages the later,â€ Cde Nyoni said.
Although there have been a number of enabling instruments, such as the SADC Trade Protocol, the SADC Trade Protocol on Gender Development and the COMESA Simplified Trade Regime,Â the environment continues to be difficult for cross-border traders.
Madam Maureen Mwanawasa, widow of former Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, noted that economic polices are skewed towards big players. She says there is need to embrace smaller entities to enhance growth.
Delegates attending the plenary meeting including Head of the SADC Gender Programme, Mrs Megdeline Mothiba-Medeibele and Unifem Regional Programmes Specialist, Mrs Cecelia Ncube, expressed optimism that working collectively regional countries will be bale to overcome challenges facing informal cross border traders and move closer towards achieving trade justice for women.