Women cross borders to trade in times of war, just as they do in peacetime. In conflict, women conduct trade across national borders as well as across internal borders that separate territories held by different fighting factions. In conducting this trade, women play a vital role, generating livelihoods for their families, and helping ensure the availability of essential goods and supplies to war-affected communities.

This report synthesises evidence from existing research on women and cross-border trade in
armed conflict. The review is specific to conflict settings in Africa, reflecting the fact that much of the available research on this topic is Africa-focused. This evidence synthesis presents a review of publications, including academic articles, organisational reports and media reports, assessing the relevant literature, analysing key themes, and identifying areas where further research is required.

This review revealed significant research gaps, identifying the need for a greater breadth of research on this topic, which would allow for more generalisable findings about women who trade across conflict-affected borders. More comprehensive research on this subject is required to inform action by states, policymakers and practitioners to better support women’s cross-border trade in conflict. In particular, further empirical research is needed to examine:

  • How conflicts affect women’s cross-border trade outside of Africa, and beyond the African
    civil wars that are currently over-represented in the research.
  • How armed groups utilise women in their cross-border trade, and how this contributes to
    armed groups’ profiting endeavours and war economies.
  • How women’s involvement in smuggling plays out across various contexts, and the relationship between women’s smuggling and trade.
  • The experiences of female traders who cross borders controlled by organised armed groups
    and militias.
  • The effects that conflict-related border closures and other border security measures have on
    female traders.