African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) statement on women, youth and informal economy actors in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).


The recent ITUC Africa Congress highlighted the pressing issues facing many African countries in their quest for economic and social development. The Congress called for a reassessment of current strategies and a renewed commitment to achieving Africa’s economic emancipation.

Structural adjustment programmes and economic impact

Trade unions are concerned about the lasting impact of Structural Adjustment Programs in Africa. Mass privatisation and the closure of state-owned enterprises have led to widespread unemployment, with the informal economy expanding significantly.

Untapped natural resources and food sovereignty

Despite its rich natural resources, Africa has struggled to gain transformational development. Accelerated beneficiation, value addition and food production are urgently needed to address lost revenues, export of jobs and persistent hunger. For Africa to truly transform, food sufficiency and sovereignty are critical components.

Fragility, conflict and infrastructure needs

With twenty-two fragile and conflict-affected countries and a decline in investment growth, the infrastructure deficit is an obstacle to industrialisation and economic growth. Investment in infrastructure, and research and development continues to be weak, suggesting weak political commitment to boost development.

Informal actors in trade – the case of women and youth in the AfCFTA

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represents the potential for a unified market for goods and services across Africa, fostering intra-African trade, economic growth, and the free movement of people. Trade unions recognise the potential benefits of the AfCFTA but worry about the possible unintended consequences of market liberalisation under the AfCFTA, such as an increase in violation of labour rights and gender inequalities. At the heart of the concerns is increased labour-intensive trade, particularly in the informal sector, which absorbs a significant proportion of Africa’s workforce.

The informal sector in sub-Saharan Africa contributes between 25% and 65% of GDP and provides between 30% and 90% of total non-agricultural employment. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employ a large part of the population, especially women and young people, and need a supportive environment for greater productivity.

The AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth recognises the specific challenges of women and youth. The Protocol commits to inclusivity and a pathway that ensures women’s and youth’s effective participation and benefits under the continental trade agreement.

There will be 460 million young Africans in 2050, presenting opportunities and challenges. The AfCFTA promotes labour-intensive trade, which means potential employment opportunities in sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture. From a trade union perspective, we must scrutinise the nature and sustainability of these jobs and continue to advocate for inclusive trade and trade agreements.

Ensuring decent work for women and youth in the AfCFTA

Trade union regional capacity building and engagement academy | Informal Economy Actors in Trade – The case of women and youth in the AfCFTA, 23-24 November 2023, Kenya.

Trade union leaders, activists, women, youth and labour researchers, civil society organisations, solidarity support organisations and partners came together as part of the ITUC-Africa and Labour Research Service capacity-building and engagement programme with informal economy actors to discuss four key issues of concern to women and youth:

  1. Quality of employment: How can the AfCFTA guarantee quantitative and qualitative improvements in employment for women and youth while safeguarding against precarious working conditions?
  2. Inclusive growth: To what extent will the AfCFTA facilitate inclusive growth of SMMEs, recognising their role as employers and conduits for empowerment in the informal economy?
  3. Skills development: What mechanisms are in place to address the skills gap among women and youth to ensure they can thrive within the AfCFTA?
  4. Social protection: Can the AfCFTA provide social protection measures for women and youth to ensure protection from vulnerabilities and inequalities?

Trade union recommendations on the informal economy and the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade

LR: Dr Hod Anyigba (Executive Director of ALREI/ITUC-Africa; Emelia Mills (ITUC-Africa Youth Committee Representative); Kwasi Ada Amankwah (General Secretary of ITUC-Africa); Gladys Blanche (Chair of ITUC-Africa Women Committee); Trenton Elsely (Executive Director of Labour Research Service).

The ITUC-Africa recommendations are to advocate for sustainable transformation, support the agricultural transformation, strengthen the capacity of trade unions, ensure inclusiveness, promote structural transformation, engage with the African Union and establish committees to facilitate the AfCFTA process.

  1. Advocacy for sustainable production and value addition: The leading economies in each region of Africa commit to developing regional value chains that incorporate the least developed countries in Africa, with a renewed focus on the African Mining Vision (AMV) and consistent investment in research and development.
  2. Promoting agricultural transformation: ITUC-Africa affiliates must engage with their states on agricultural revolution to ensure sustainable food sufficiency, sovereignty, employment and rural development.
  3. Building the capacity of trade union activists: ITUC-Africa works to build, improve and strengthen the capacity of trade unions to represent workers. It aims to create a pool of trade union experts at different levels and to promote cooperation with other relevant civil society organisations on trade, investment and industrialisation, particularly in the context of the AfCFTA.
  4. Inclusive representation: ITUC-Africa calls for representation of women, youth and people with disabilities in all trade, investment, industrialisation and structural transformation activities in Africa.
  5. Collective pressure for redistribution of economic benefits: Unions call for collective efforts to regulate and redistribute economic benefits through fiscal policies such as progressive taxation, minimum living wages and social protection floors for all, thereby addressing the inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  6. Focus on structural transformation: Realign efforts to pursue Africa’s structural transformation at various levels of social dialogue, including national, sub-regional, continental and international levels.
  7. Engagement with the African Union: A renewed plan includes setting up an ITUC-Africa office in Addis Ababa to facilitate focused engagement with the African Union.
  8. National implementation planning committees: The member states of the AfCFTA must establish national implementation planning committees that include representatives of the trade union movement, women, youth and informal economy actors.
  9. Mechanisms for meaningful social dialogue: The member states of the AfCFTA must establish mechanisms for meaningful social dialogue in national institutions, sub-regional institutions, in particular the labour departments of the regional economic communities, and at the continental level, in particular with the AfCFTA Secretariat.
  10. Simplified trade regime: Trade unions advocate for a simplified AfCFTA trade regime for women and youth in informal cross-border trade.
  11. Innovative union organising strategies for informal economy workers at national, sub-regional and continental levels.
  12. Promoting occupational health and safety: Focus on promoting Occupational Health and Safety, social protection, eliminating sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and tackling corruption, particularly extortion at borders.

In a statement, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, former General Secretary of ITUC-Africa, stressed the importance of collective action and urged governments, businesses, trade unions and civil society to support and engage with the recommendations. The call to action aligns with the vision of making trade a catalyst for economic growth, job creation and equitable development across the African continent.



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