We want to empower women cross-border traders in West Africa’

Korkor Cujoe is the women’s rights programmes manager at the Graça Machel Trust; which established the New Faces New Voices (NFNV), African women in finance networks implementing a project aimed at addressing the challenge of women cross-border traders in West Africa.
She speaks to ADAM ALQALI
What do you seek to achieve with the second phase of NFNV’s The Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project? It is about getting challenges being faced by women cross border traders integrated in policymaking so that they can be addressed; we wonder why a lot of the issues women faced are not being addressed? Why are we not able to develop strategies that ensure the borders act differently towards women? I think the challenges are two-way.
That is to say women’s businesses need to also be formalized; women need to be empowered with information.
They say information is power.
If a woman is informed and she goes to the border, the moment she shows the officials she is informed they begin to panic.
Otherwise, if they harass them and they can’t resist; instead they have to go ahead and pay the bribe because you don’t know your rights.
We as such need to respond to the informal nature of women’s businesses, we can’t just wait to see it formalized, it may take 10 or 20 years’ for that to happen.
Instead, we have to respond to the challenge by empowering women to be effective.

How do you hope this project will help women formalize their trade and contribute to the growth of the sub region’s economy? I think trading is important, buying and selling is like a quick fix for people.
If you go to supermarkets you see tin tomatoes; it’s about storage, when you process products you increase their longevity.
So the question is how we ensure longevity for women’s products and that is called value addition which creates jobs.
Every import creates jobs in the countries of import, when we export we are creating jobs in our countries.
There are different layers in trade, we need to get women to participate across the value chain and that is the only way we can create wealth.
For example, we can focus on seed production which is critical to achieve food sovereignty, now the question is how do we build the capacity of women to build seedcompanies.
There is a lot of value in seeds, as against grains and at the moment multinational organisations such as Monsanto and Syngenta are companies that dominate the seed market in Africa; there are very few African seed producing companies.
Women already participate in agricultural production; they provide 80% of agricultural labour in Africa, why can’t they become owners of agricultural production? Not just be mere laborers in agricultural production.
So, we have started to see that trade is part and parcel of economic growth, however, we need be more ambitious, let’s not just think about moving raw materials from one point to another; instead let’s think about how to organize women into groups and build their capacity.
I know developing a product is a process, the first year may not be good but the more you get capacity the more you become an expert in it.
What we seek achieve with this project funded by United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation is raise the voices of women under the association; we also want to build the capacity of women exporters to understand the need to not only export raw materials but also do value addition before export and be able to participate in trade fairs with our own products.

How do you plan to achieve getting women to add value to their products; are you working with individual women in crossborder trade (CBT) or clusters of women in CBT? It has to be in clusters because clusters bring more value, in the world of business, there is what is called economies of scale; the reason why supermarkets don’t buy from women is because they don’t have scale.
We want to make sure the women we will work with are in clusters so that if they have an order of 1000 pieces of a product, and each woman is able to produce 100 each, they will be able to achieve that scale.
That is what we want to achieve until each of the women grow their business to be able to produce a 1000 each.
For this process to be successful you need women of different skillsets; you need the sophisticated women who will have to negotiate the prices at the market and community women who will produce the products and make sure the quality and storage is right before it is processed.
So, everyone has a role and the most important thing is how we can strengthen everyone across the value chain.
We need to do collective branding and marketing so we can produce recognized global brands which are easy to sell because people know them.
I will like to see us focus on a few products and be able to brand them well to become recognized global brands.

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