Cross-border trade (CBT) is trade in legitimately produced goods and services between neighbouring countries. Most often CBT refers to trade that takes place close to the borders. For Rwanda, CBT refers to trade with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Uganda. It is estimated that between 70% and 80% of cross border traders are women, and 90% of these women traders rely on CBT as their sole source of income.
Recognizing the importance of cross-border trade as a major component of business in the country and a particularly important avenue for poverty alleviation with a strong gender impact, Rwanda developed a National Cross Border Trade Strategy (NCBTS 2012-2017) that was updated in 2020. This Strategy sought to align this cluster of trade with trade-related policies and other existing Government policies focusing on a market-led approach to expand CB.
Women’s sources of income are in sectors that are hard hit by restrictions on movement and lowered consumer demand in export markets. The majority of the employed Rwandan population is employed in the informal sector. Findings from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), indicate that over the past three years, more females were informally employed with 92.5% in 2017 to 91.2 % in 2019. In addition, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the LFS states that unemployment had declined among females from 22.7% in 2016 to 17% in 2019, while the employment-to-population ratio and labour force participation rate were also increasing. However, the sudden mobility restriction is expected to have a critical impact on these trends.
Prior to the lockdown, the majority of the employed population was employed on daily wage jobs for the past three years, and women were overly represented in that category. The findings from the LFS show that the proportion of females on daily wage had slightly reduced from 64.1% in 2017 to 60.9% in 2019 but remained high compared to men. The results also show that only 23.9%
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of females had a permanent contract in 2017 and 27.5% in 20191. This data underscores the magnitude of the problems affecting women in the informal sector who run a greater risk of termination of employment and losing their livelihoods.
Today many countries in the world are implementing preventive measures on COVID-19 pandemic which has been a Public Health Emergency of International concern. Many countries including Rwanda took several measures to contain the spread of the virus and protect lives of citizens. These comprise “lockdown strategies such as closure of borders, enforcing social distancing, restricting the movement of people and quarantining affected and exposed persons. The lockdown measures and closure of boarders have affected women in informal cross border trade both economically and socially.
During the previous GMO monitoring on cross border initiatives especially in Rubavu District, it was evident that women in informal cross border trade face a number of challenges including but not limited to small capital that limits their business growth, violence and limited facilities to cater for their children. Looking at these issues, it is clear that COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted their business and their families.

In response to the aspirations of GMO’s strategic plan 2017-2022 and considering that women in CBT was mostly hit by the pandemic, the Gender Monitoring Office in collaboration with UN WOMEN through funding from the Government of Japan, intends to hire a consultancy firm with two senior consultants that will conduct an assessment on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on women in informal cross border trade.

The assessment will mainly focus on gender dimensions on the impact of Covid-19 on women and men in informal cross border trade in Rusizi, Rubavu and Nyamasheke districts. please download full ToR here

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