AFCFTA: Women & youth crucial to Africa's economic transformation

Beyond Capacity Building

African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) signals the start of an Africa We Want. Advancing continental integrationin trade is critical if Africa is to drive its economic agenda. Expectations of African citizens run high; business communities are keen to see trade barriers lifted. A transformative AfCFTA requires inclusion of the continent’s women & youth. Our work has established that cultural & structural barriers remain stumbling blocks to women & youth. Capacity building has enabled this critical group acquire skills; but what next? At the backdrop of AfCFTA, speakers will discuss: Policy considerations for parity; Engaging women and youth in regional value chains (market access, logistics, ICT); Collective Power; Actions to increase inclusion & unlock structural barriers.


Key points

  • The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) should bring major economic benefits to African countries

  • Women and youth will not benefit automatically from these opportunities

  • Large companies will be the first beneficiaries of the free trade deal

  • Women make up a large part of the workforce and they can benefit

  • The challenge is how to turn women involved in small cross-border trade into meaningful traders


With the hopes of a continent-wide, African free trade area moving closer to becoming reality, one fundamental question posed was: How can we ensure that women and youth also benefit from the economic opportunities on offer? There was general agreement that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presented opportunities for increasing cross-border trade. Fifty-two countries have signed up to the agreement so far out of a possible total of 55. These benefits, however, will not automatically benefit women traders and young people. One of the main challenges is that of scale. It will be easier, for instance, for businesses transporting container loads of goods, while women selling smaller amounts of products – often with only one or two bags of products to sell – face bigger obstacles. Nevertheless, women could benefit from a clearer legal framework, helping them to move from subsistence to being traders in a meaningful sense. As women make up the majority of the workforce in manufacturing, they could also benefit as the trade deal is expected to benefit labour-intensive industries. Those engaged in the services sector could also see more opportunities. As far as the youth are concerned, speakers said it was important that African countries that had joined the free trade deal also signed up to an accompanying arrangement for free movement. This would benefit young people as many African countries have skills shortages and freedom of movement would allow them to avail of employment opportunities in neighbouring countries. In East Africa, the trade deal was expected to generate 2 million new jobs a year although the same number of people entered the jobs market in one country, Ethiopia, each year. For the free trade deal to deliver the promised economic benefits, access to education is another significant factor, including, in some cases, training on how to take advantage of the opportunities on offer. This was especially true for women living in isolated rural areas. Speakers pointed out that the free trade area would not automatically reduce existing inequalities. Despite the challenges, there was a lot of optimism about the deal. There has been high-level political commitment by African leaders and economic integration has already taken place. Examples include a single network for mobile telephony and shared visa procedures so tourists can now apply to visit African countries at the same time.


Free movement within the African continent will bring major benefits, especially for young people, as it will allow them to fill skills shortages in other countries.

Organised by


Dorothy Tuma
TradeMark East Africa
Allen Sophia Asiimwe
Chief Technical Officer
TradeMark East Africa
Andrew Mold
Acting Director
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
Ashish Shah
Director, Division of Countty Programmes
International Trade Centre
Isabelle Durant
Deputy Secretary-General
United Nations Conference on Trade
Liz Kiambi
African Wildlife Foundation