Journal of Social Development in Africa

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Gendered Nature Of Informal Crossborder Trade In Zimbabwe

Victor Ngonidzashe Muzvidziwa


A significant proportion of Zimbabweans are constantly on the move and do engage in informal cross-border activities. It is highly acknowledged that Zimbabwean informal cross-border traders in particular are cultural and economic entrepreneurs (Cheater 1998; Muzvidziwa 2001, 2012; Zinyama 2000). While earlier migration studies focused on male migrants and tended to characterise migration as a male gender issue, cross-border trade presents a completely different picture, as women tend to dominate in this area. Women are a significant but a footloose group in search of markets and livelihoods not just for survival but to enable many to invest and thus enter the world of business as entrepreneurs. Cross-border trade is dominated by a highly mobile class of women specialising in long distance business activities. Zimbabwean women are no longer content with being dutiful housewives and home makers. They have taken a lead on matters of household survival. Cross-border women traders have become in colloquial terms varume pachavo (Just like men i.e. they are men in their own right). This is particularly with reference to women informal cross-border traders' breadwinner status. Cross-border women traders can best be described as having fluid, shifting and multiple identities. The notion of kumusha (home) is deeply entrenched in women cross-border traders. Male migrants can be described as stayers, they can be away from their families and homes for a considerable period of time, while women are constantly on the move and they stay connected to their home bases. Through cross-border trade the women are now connected to places and people in distant places but remain firmly rooted in Zimbabwe. To these women the world is like a large village. Women cross-border traders see networks as a resource that can be effectively mobilised to ensure success in business. Cross-border trade is a livelihood strategy that is making a difference to many households in an environment marked by declining and collapsing economies. This paper focuses on cross-border trade as a highly gendered activity that has become the key coping and investment strategy for many women in the context of a depressed economy as is the case in Zimbabwe. This article draws from a yearlong in-depth study of Zimbabwean women cross-border traders.

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