Cross-border trade impeded by harassment

Image from IPS News

In a UNIFEM study of 700 informal traders in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and border posts to South Africa, women report that harassment and sexual exploitation by border officials seeking bribes constitute their biggest obstacles.

And it’s not just a few women who are impacted.  In Zimbabwe, for example, about 70 percent of women are involved in cross-border trade as part of their livelihood.

Via IPS News:

“The UNIFEM study describes the effects of the traders’ operating environment on their health. A reliance on public transportation, poor maintenance, high costs and incidences of theft and sexual harassment mean that women traders face serious threats.

The difficulty of obtaining loans and start-up capital for small businesses forces many women traders to borrow money from “loan sharks” to pay for transport and purchase goods.

Corrupt border officials who take advantage of traders’ sometimes limited level of understanding of the customs process may also confiscate some their goods illegally.

Many are forced to engage in transactional sex along trade corridors to obtain accommodation, transport or get through borders.

Upon returning home, female traders – who may be gone for weeks at a time – may be accused of prostitution and stigmatised.

[Ottilia Chikosha, from the Harare-based Regional Export Promotion Women’s Trust,] said the major challenge is how to help women informal traders to enter the formal economy.”

The good news is that earlier this month, UNIFEM held a workshop with the South African government to address the barriers facing women economically and how to make public spaces safer for them. I hope that good strategies and ideas came out of it.


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