Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe reportedly fail to protect rights of women in informal sector


Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe are reportedly failing to protect the human rights of women working in the informal sector, according to a new Amnesty International report.

The report titled ‘Cross-border is our livelihood, it is our job’- Decent work as a human right for women cross border traders in Southern Africa.

It detailed how women working in Informal Cross-Border Trade (ICBT) in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe frequently face physical assault, sexual harassment and intimidation.

In the report, Amnesty International Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Tigere Chagutah, noted that these acts were often perpetrated by state officials.

“The governments of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have failed to protect women participating in Informal Cross-Border Trade (ICBT) from gender-based violence and economic exploitation,” Chagutah said.

He noted that this had impeded women’s ability to exercise their human rights in the context of decent work. especially that they also face violence from non-state actors.

Chagutah stated that the vulnerability of women in informal employment to diverse forms of abuse, combined with restricted access to justice, highlights a glaring gap in state protection.

“The lack of robust legal frameworks and effective enforcement mechanisms further amplifies the injustices experienced by women in the ICBT sector,” he said.

Chagutah noted that in 2018, the value of informal cross-border trade in the Southern Africa region reached USD $17.6 billion.

He said informal cross-border trade was predominantly conducted by women, with women comprising 60 percent to 90 percent of those engaged in this trade across subregions.

“Amnesty International’s research uncovered that women engaged in cross-border trade frequently encounter substantial economic exploitation, which adversely affects their ability to earn a living and undermines their financial stability,” Chagutah said.

He stated that this exploitation takes various forms, including bribery, theft and arbitrary confiscation of goods despite the sector presenting significant potential for poverty alleviation.

Chagutah said the susceptibility of women informal cross-border traders to economic exploitation was heightened by gender-based discrimination at borders and a perceived lack of legal protections.

“The report highlights systemic state failures in upholding the right to social security, with notable deficits in addressing the substantial care responsibilities borne by women engaged in cross-border trade,” he stated.

Read More: Traders Association calls on members to desist from conducting illegal trade at border posts

Chagutah added that in the absence of social protection coverage, many of the women reported inability to exercise their right to an adequate standard of living.

He noted that they also faced challenges such as being unable to take time off when sick and having little support in terms of childcare.

“Social security systems in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe favour formal workers, leaving many in the informal sector without adequate assistance,” Chagutah said.

He added that a gendered impact of this is the lack of social protection measures to cover contingencies like maternity for workers in the informal economy.

“Governments must rectify these shortcomings, giving priority to upholding the rights of women engaged in cross-border trade,” Chagutah said.

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