COMESA Ministers of Gender meet to review progress

The 12th Meeting of the COMESA Ministers Responsible for Gender and Women’s Affairs was held Thursday 3 August 2023 as the region took stock of the progress it has made in advancing gender equality, empowerment of women and girls, as well as social and cultural development. The meeting, which was being held for the first time since 2021, was virtual.

It was organized to allow the ministers to consider and adopt the Report of the 14th Meeting of the COMESA Technical Committee on Gender and Women’s Affairs held 24-25 July, also virtually.

COMESA Secretary General HE Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe delivered the opening remarks at the meeting, noting that the COVID pandemic had made the region much more aware of how unforeseen calamities can have a disproportionate impact on women compared to men, or girls compared to boys.

“The pandemic pushed more women out of employment because they dominate the services sector which were shut down to prevent the spread of COVID. Moreover, according to a 2021 survey by the International Labour Organization, only 43.2 per cent of the world’s working-age women were likely to be employed post-COVID, compared to 68.6 per cent of working-age men. Women were also more likely to lose their jobs permanently compared to men,” she said.

She added that in the event of disasters and epidemics, such inequalities get reinforced and amplified. “This should not be accepted as normal, and I am in no doubt that you are all already seized of the need to move with speed to make our region more equal, and a place where everyone be it male or female is respected, protected and afforded the social and economic opportunities to be able to realize their full potential.”

The Secretary General also informed the ministers about COMESA’s collaboration with the Indian Ocean Commission to promote the cultural and creative industries in the East African region through a grant secured from HEVA Fund and the British Council in January this year. The aim of the project is to strengthen policy framework on cultural and creatives industries, which contribute significantly to the socio-economic development of the region through tourism and art.

She made a case for continued empowerment of women, highlighting various initiatives undertaken by the COMESA Federation of Women in Business (COMFWB) as well as the 50 Million African Women Speak digital platform for women in business which continues to grow.

“If women are equipped with the necessary resources, skills and opportunities to start stronger businesses, and pursue the growth potential of these enterprises, this would contribute significantly to poverty reduction, wealth creation and employment generation, and improved well-being for millions of the citizens of our region,” the Secretary General affirmed.

Ministers in attendance commended the progress made on advancing gender equality and lauded the Secretariat for its good work in supporting various gender-related activities in the Member States, including the training provided to enhance capacity to collect gender-sensitive statistics. In the same meeting, the Member States which are yet to ratify the Social Charter were urged to do so.