COMESA was founded in 1994 as a replacement to the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) which had existed since 1981. COMESA (as defined by its Treaty) was established 'as an organisation of free independent sovereign states which have agreed to co-operate in developing their natural and human resources for the good of all their people' and as such it has a wide-ranging series of objectives which necessarily include in its priorities the promotion of peace and security in the region.

It focuses on managing the free trade area consisting of Eastern and Southern African states as well as promoting good developmental policies. It focuses on trade liberalization and lowering of transaction costs by harmonizing trade policies and computerizing all interactions.

Gender and Social Affairs Division[i]:

The Division of Gender and Social Affairs exists to provide leadership, direction and oversight of the implementation of the COMESA Gender Policy in the member States and at the Secretariat.

This division oversees the mainstreaming of gender within the Secretariat and COMESA programmes. It also oversees the implementation of the Social and Cultural Affairs activities.

The Gender and Social Affairs Division states: “In line with Articles 154 and 155 of the COMESA Treaty, and in recognition of the fact that sustainable economic and social development of the region requires the effective participation of women, men and youth, the 7th COMESA Summit of the Heads of State and Government held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2002 adopted the COMESA Gender Policy and the Addis Ababa Declaration on Gender. The COMESA Gender Policy advocates equal and full participation of women in all aspects of COMESA activities and other operations taking place in the region. The Gender Policy emphasizes the principle of Affirmative Action across all spheres of COMESA policies, systems, structures, programmes and activities in order to redress existing gender imbalances.”

The division ensures that COMESA will work to reduce the barriers preventing women’s participation in COMESA activities such as: trade, the private sector, infrastructure development and science and technology are addressed and removed. There are not significant figures representing the success or the progress made on reducing these barriers listed on the website.

The division also ensures that affirmative action will be applied to ensure that policies, programmes, projects, administrative procedures and practices of COMESA Secretariat, COMESA institutions, COMESA structures and their budgets are gender sensitive.

“The COMESA Gender Policy will also facilitate the engendering of legislation in member States in order to promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land, credit, technology and information.”

The COMESA policy also aims to mainstream cross-cutting issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty, governance, environment, information, communication and technology, drug abuse and others into all its policies, programmes, structures and operations, along with women’s issues. Current strategic activities is to focus on cross cutting issues such as climate change and gender and social development[ii] 

In our review of COMESA’s efforts to mainstream gender in their policies and hiring practices, MEWC came up with the following chart:

Sex disaggregation of senior staff 

Diplomatic Title


Secretary General


Assistant Secretary General (Programmes)


Assistant Secretary General (Finance & Administration)


Director - Administration


Director – Investment Promotion and Private Sector Development


Director Infrastructure Development


Director – Gender and Social Affairs


Director – Information and Networking


Director- Legal and Institutional Affairs


Director - Finance


Coordinator Climate Change


Public Relations Officer


Internal Audit



4 Women, 9 Men


There are 4 women holding major decision-making positions at COMESA. Only one woman is in the programmes division as the Gender and Social Affairs director. The other three women are in the administrative and finance divisions. One female is the assistant secretary gender of Finance and Administration, showing a near gender parity in the executive management section. However, the number of women represented in the programmes division of COMESA does not amount to gender parity.

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