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The Voice of a Female Cross Border Traders

Southern Africa Trust - Malter Vilakati speaking at the second Women Cross Borders Traders Forum in Lusaka, Zambia
Caption: Malter Vilakati speaking at the second Women Cross Borders Traders Forum in Lusaka, Zambia

Malter Vilakati knows the challenges of undertaking trade as an economic activity across borders in the SADC region. And she knows how much progress has been made to ensure that these economic opportunities are available to women. Vilakati is a 63-year-old cross border trader from Manzini in Swaziland. In July 2013, she was part of the women traders group that formed the Women Cross Border Traders Forum with the support of the Southern Africa Trust. This forum ensures women are participating in economic empowerment initiatives in the SADC region.

The Forum was established following the cross border traders regional policy dialogue supported by the Southern Africa Trust in Maputo, Mozambique in 2013. The dialogue was organised to focus on key issues affecting traders in the SADC Free Trade Area. COMESA Simplified Trade Regime and Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). It was during the dialogue that key issues affecting women traders were identified including their limited awareness and participation in policy dialogue at national and regional levels, and security concerns at border posts. Out of the 47 participants that were at the forum coming from eight SADC member states – Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe only one of the cross border trader associations was headed by a woman.

The Trust subsequently supported a consultative dialogue to establish the Women Cross Border Traders Forum in order to build the capacity of existing trade policy framework, opportunities for cross border trader and establish a platform for women to raise issues affecting them across borders. Women have had the opportunity to engage and have dialogues with policymakers from the SADC and COMESA region. These interventions will contribute towards women cross border traders enjoying the benefits from trade.
Vilakati says women who trade across borders are often marginalized due to the sector being dominated by men.

“Dealing with gender discrimination was challenging for me at first. I was passionate about trading goods but I did not know how to defend myself in such cases,” says Vilakati.
“It is easier to trade and defend myself now because the forum has exposed me to more information about rules and policies that protect female traders,” she adds.

Prior to joining the Women Cross Border Traders Forum, Vilakati was a secretary at a sugar corporation in Swaziland. She was retrenched in 2005 and founded the Swaziland Informal Cross Border Traders Association (SWACBITA) in the same year. SWACBITA is affiliated with the Southern Africa Cross Border Traders Association (SACBITA), a regional association funded by The Trust.
Vilakati says the knowledge she has acquired has enabled her to recruit and guide other women to be successful cross border traders.

The Southern Africa Cross Border Traders Association has a WhatsApp group where women communicate information about the challenges they face, pricing and opportunities available in other countries. The women forum has been organised three times; in 2013, 2014 and 2016 to discuss critical issues. The women have engaged the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and government officials to explore opportunities for members as well as to address the challenges affecting women traders. They have also worked to ensure that gender is mainstreamed in trade policies within the region.

Vilakati is happy with the progress women are making in cross border trading. She envisions a future where women leaders in cross border trader associations are nominated by other women.

The Women Cross Border Traders Forum is formed by women representatives of the Southern Africa Cross Border Traders Association (SACBTA) drawn from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

View the Women Cross Border Traders Forum position statements here,

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