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The advocacy meeting on cross-border trade issues was organized by Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe, a civil society umbrella of 57 women advocacy groups in Rwanda. The meeting aimed to discuss challenges and the progress made in addressing them in line with enhancing regional integration that enables cross-border traders to contribute to sustainable economic development.

Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and DR Congo officials have committed to work together in addressing challenges hindering cross-border trade in the region, especially for women doing that business.

The commitment, which is expected to help thousands of small-scale cross-border traders – especially women – to carry out their daily business smoothly, was made on Monday in Kigali during a regional advocacy meeting on cross-border trade.

The meeting brought together regional public institution representatives whose mandates relate to cross-border trade.

The cross-border trade features small businesses, like selling fish, tomatoes, milk, and fruits.

It was noted that, despite its vital contribution to food security, providing employment as well as allowing people access to goods and services unavailable in their own countries at affordable prices, cross-border trade remains under developed.

The major challenges faced by cross-border traders include limited access to credit, lack of information on regional trading protocols and services, robbery, gender based violence and confiscation.

According to Rwanda’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, cross-border trade contributes over $ 170 million annually to GDP.

Robert Opirah, the director-general of trade and investment at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the Government has been creating a friendly operating environment for cross-border traders.

The Government has been constructing markets at the borders to support the traders. Three markets have been completed in Burera, Akanyaru and Karongi districts.

Opirah said the construction activities for more markets are underway on the Kagitumba, Gatunda, and Rusizi and Rusumo borders.

Chairperson in charge of trade and finance in ministry of trade and industry in Rwanda, Opirah Robert

He added that the facilities will also have early childhood development centres to support women traders once they are at work.

“It is better that traders get commodities near instead of travelling to other cities like Kigali. Cross-border trade plays a crucial role in the economic development of countries,” Opirah said.

Advisor in the office of ministry of trade in Republic Democratic of Congo, UMULISA Solange

Umulisa Solange said that we find that women are not aware on how borders operate, where as great lakes countries have made agreement for the purpose of easing the trade between countries but women did not know, we keep raising awareness on that

Emma Marie Bugingo, the executive secretary of Pro-femme Twese Hamwe, said the next step is to tackle challenges such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment, among others.

“We will keep on educating and sensitising all stakeholders, including police, immigration officers, and revenue authorities, among other border agencies, on the laws and regulations regarding cross-border trade as well as encouraging them to support the sector instead of harassing practitioners. There are many women small-scale cross-border traders and their rights should be respected in all countries,” Bugingo said.

Executive secretary of Pro- Femmse/ Twese Hamwe, BUGINGO Emma Marie

She said that all the partner countries will work together to harmonise working hours because some of the borders close earlier than others.

She added that in 63 cooperatives of women working in cross border trade have been linked to financial institutions and and some of the cooperatives have began to received funds from BDF.

Participants of the meeting