Women Traders in Southeast Asia Vs Sub-Saharan Africa: With and Against the Odds

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:21
Oral Presentation
Rae Lesser BLUMBERG, University of Virginia, USA
I’ve begun applying my theories of gender stratification and gender and development to trade – in which women are important in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, areas where I’ve done research on gender and economic power. I posit that a prerequisite of female involvement in trade is participation in significant production activities. But the nature of the kinship-property system can facilitate or complicate women’s trade. In Southeast Asia’s overwhelmingly bilateral or matrilineal groups, women freely engage in trade ranging from selling in local markets to long-distance and/or cross-border trade. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, 75% of ethnic groups are patrilineal and women rarely inherit land. Yet, especially in West Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa, women are crucial in both local and informal cross-border trade. In Southeast Asia, women traditionally worked in horticulture in the uplands; in the lowlands both genders cultivated irrigated rice, with many women trading seasonally, while others traded year-round. In Africa, formal trade takes 12 days to clear customs whereas women informal cross-border traders take hours, greatly enhancing food security: Polygyny is common in sub-Saharan Africa, as are “separate purses” for husband and wives, especially in West Africa, where cultivation is horticultural and men are primary cultivators in <20% of ethnic groups. Women there often organize to facilitate their trading. But female trading is so entrenched that after the 1800 jihad that imposed Islam and seclusion marriage on the Nigerian Hausa, women began running their businesses from their homes, aided by non-secluded pre-adolescent daughters or brothers – with ~98% having income-generating activities. Women traders face many obstacles and dangers (in 2016, I found sexual coercion at one Malawi border and having to use wild animal corridors at night in Northern Botswana). But few governments facilitate their situation, reducing their development contributions. I end with some policy suggestions.