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COMESA Ministers responsible for Gender and Women’s Affairs met last week for their 9th ministerial meeting in Livingstone, Zambia and discussed the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment in the region.

Addressing the Ministers, COMESA Assistant Secretary General for programmes Ambassador Kipyego Cheluget thanked member States for their continued support and commitment to the promotion of gender equality, empowerment of women and youth, and social and cultural development within the economic integration agenda of COMESA.

Ambassador Cheluget said the presence of the ministers reaffirms the commitment of member States to the COMESA goal of economic integration and ensuring gender equality, empowerment of women and youth as well as social transformation.

He reported that considerable progress has been made towards the implementation of past Council Decisions which mainly included the need for critical review of policy documents by gender experts from Member States. This is to ensure ownership of the policy and strategy documents of gender and social programs in COMESA. The Secretariat managed to mobilize resources and organized a gender experts meeting for Member States which was held in Zambia.

The policy documents that have been revised and submitted to the just ended technical committee for consideration are the Revised COMESA Gender Policy, Draft Gender and Social Affairs Strategic Plan, Draft Regional Gender Guideline for CAADP, Draft COMESA Health Framework, Draft Regional HIV and AIDS Policy and the Draft Gender and Social Affairs Communication Strategy.

The ministers were informed that the COMESA Secretariat has undertaken sensitization missions to selected Member States to raise awareness on the need for Member States to sign the COMESA Social Charter. “I am pleased to report that Mauritius and Malawi have since signed the charter. Madagascar will be third in signing the COMESA Social Charter.” Ambassador Cheluget said.

Ambassador Cheluget mentioned that the Secretariat has also embarked on new interventions that can help to speed up some of the Council Decisions. Among the many initiatives, the 50Million African Women Speak project supported by AfDB can be cited as one of them. The project provides an online platform for women in business to share their experience and learn from others.

Speaking when he officially opened the meeting, Southern Province Permanent Secretary Mr Sibanze Simuchoba appealed to member States to ratify the COMESA Social Charter which is meant to facilitate the integration of social and cultural Affairs into the COMESA regional integration Agenda.

The purpose of the charter is to establish the basic principles upon which COMESA regulations, programmes, declarations and protocols on labour, employment, education, culture, sports, peace and security, environment, health, social justice and human rights as well as economic opportunities would be modeled.

In his concluding remarks, he stressed that the future of Gender Equality, the Empowerment of women and Promotion of Social Development issues and their integration in the COMESA regional integration will depend on the critical decisions the Ministers were going to take and also the determination which member States will have to implement them in future.