I recently returned from a trip to West Africa, during which I drove across the border between Benin and Nigeria at the border crossing of Seme. While we waited for our passports to be subjected to prolonged checks and seals, I observed the intense activity of the many passing cars, motorcycles and pedestrians.
Indeed, most women were on foot, and were the ones that had to endure the most intense exams. While men on motorbikes could break through, refusing to slow down, all women had to go through a narrow passage where they were subjected to questioning and documentary requirements. It was quite obvious that women were asked for bribes that men could avoid by passing by. I had read about how women suffer from more intense harassment at border crossings and this experience enabled me to check it very vividly.
It made me grateful for all the work we are doing at the World Bank Group to help women traders on the African continent.
In the Great Lakes region, the ongoing work of the World Bank includes trade facilitation measures targeted specifically at women traders. This policy note, "Risky business Poor cross-border traders in the Great Lakes region of Africa (i)", based on the results of a study on cross-border trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, shows that the livelihoods of female traders are undermined by high levels of harassment and physical violence at the border, as well as the prevalence of unofficial payments and bribes. This video, "The Small Barriers (f)," produced on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, brings to life the dilemmas facing women who simply want to bring their meager products to market. And the work continues, including this Great Lakes Trade Facilitation Project (i), designed to improve the environment for traders in the region, especially women.
One of our most recent projects adopts a novel approach to assist traders engaged in informal trade in Africa. These are small, poor merchants from remote communities in the border areas, and most of them are women. Cross-border trade is often its main source of income, if not the only one. This trade is informal, in the sense that it is not measured, but traders often cross formal border posts; the risks and costs of crossing elsewhere can be very high. In many cases the formal crossing is the closest point between markets on either side of the border. This is the case of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gisenyi in Rwanda, where more than 3,000 traders - mainly women - cross the border every day.
But while these efforts respond to the dynamics that I witnessed during my visit to Benin and Nigeria, the task is not yet complete. There are many women traders to protect and many boundaries yet to improve. At the World Bank Group we are focusing on this. We will continue to use our country expertise and technical expertise to seek appropriate and effective local solutions for women traders in Africa. We know that economies depend on it.