FEMCOM – A Journey of a Thousand Miles

Queen Rania of Jordan said: ‘If you educate a woman, you educate a family, if you educate a girl, you educate the future.’ This is more true foe the African woman who from times past has been seen as more of tool for subjection by the man. The Woman of Africa must be empowered to take a lead for the socio economic development of the country.

With a single mindedness determination, Heads of State and Government in July 1993 made a public call to turn into reality the dream of educating the woman of Africa through empowerment in various business and leadership sectors. FEMCOM, which is a French acronym for National Associations of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa was born at a meeting in Zimbabwe. It was to spearhead women empowerment through development and business.

Secretariat and Establishment

From 1992 to March 2009 was operating under Gender and Social Affairs Division located in the COMESA Secretariat. At the COMESA Heads of State and Government Summit in 2008 in Nairobi, Kenya recommended the need for FEMCOM institution to be a stand-alone entity. Consequently, FEMCOM established its own secretariat in Lilongwe, Malawi in April, 2009 with the generous support by the Malawian Government. As one of the COMESA Institutions, FEMCOM has as its members, associations of women in business from 19 member countries of the COMESA region.

FEMCOM was founded on the idea that regional economic integration cannot be seen to have succeeded without the full involvement and equal participation of women in business. Its mandate is embedded in (i) the Treaty establishing the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, COMESA, under Article 155 – Women in Business; (ii) FEMCOM Charter, which mandates FEMCOM to “act as a forum for the exchange of ideas and experience among women entrepreneurs; an instrument through which the appropriate portion of COMESA Women in Development Programmes shall be implemented; a forum for network among women entrepreneurs and an instrument for encouraging women to set up or expand existing enterprises.”

This development truly enabled FEMCOM to be a stand-alone COMESA entity, whereby its instrumental role in facilitating business linkages for its primary beneficiaries – women in business in Eastern and Southern Africa – through enhancing their capacities was reaffirmed and fostered than ever before.

Timeline of Key Events and Programmes – 2009 to 2012
Board Activities

    FEMCOM held its 3rd Board Meeting (first at its Secretariat) in Lilongwe, Malawi in September 2009. Key results from the Board Meeting included, the development of FEMCOM’s Medium Term Strategic Plan: 2009-2014 and election of the Resource Mobilization and Documentation Sub-Committees;
    • FEMCOM convened its 4th Board Meeting and Annual General Meeting in Manzini, Swaziland in August 2010.;
    During the COMESA 2010 Summit, the Board Chairperson was elected as Vice Chairperson for COMESA Business Council;
    FEMCOM held its 5th Board Meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi. During this meeting, the incumbent Acting Executive Director, Mrs. Katherine Ichoya was confirmed as Executive Director of FEMCOM Secretariat; and the FEMCOM website was reviewed and approved by the Board;
    FEMCOM 6th Board Meeting in Cairo, Egypt in April 2012 approved the road map to officially launch FEMCOM and;
    FEMCOM Vice Chairperson and Executive Director had an audience with the then new President of the Republic of Malawi and Second Female President in Africa, Mrs. Joyce Banda during which they congratulated her and updated her on FEMCOM activities.
Secretariat Activities
    Government of Malawi allocated an office for FEMCOM Secretariat in Lilongwe, Malawi when it relocated from COMESA Secretariat, Lusaka, Zambia;
    Operationalization of the Secretariat including employment of the Executive Director, the Finance and Administration Officer and setting up of initial systems;
    FEMCOM Secretariat initiated a partnership with PTA Bank to facilitate access of credit through credit guarantee arrangements to selected FEMCOM national chapters. The Bank has provided a loan to a tune of US$400,000 to AFAB for WISE (a microfinance institution in Burundi managed and owned by women in business who are members of AFAB;
    Host agreement with Government of Malawi signed: The Secretary General of COMESA, Mr. Sindiso Ngwenya signed the Host Agreements of two of the COMESA institutions based in Malawi;
    FEMCOM Secretariat received a formal offer letter from the Ministry of Land and Urban Development, Malawi to construct a FEMCOM Complex;
    Launch of FEMCOM Swaziland in December 2012; and
    FEMCOM in partnership with COMESA Gender Division would receive funding of Euro 500,000 from the Government of Spain through the NEPAD Secretariat for the establishment of incubator projects in members states focusing on agro-processing.
Emerging Opportunities

There is need for FEMCOM to seize the historic opportunity presented by the regional and global momentum currently building up in favour of addressing the plight of women and women in business in particular.

Several global developments shine a bright light on the condition of women around the world. It is expected that these events and developments will provide the impetus for FEMCOM’s agenda, enabling it to move from the realm of principle and policy to practice.

    Global momentum on women empowerment has been gaining traction progressively since the passage of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979;
    Additional momentum was provided by the 1993 UN Declaration on Violence against Women and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the Beijing plus 15 initiatives. Since then support for women’s causes in general have picked significant momentum, with cumulative and progressive gains in awareness, policy and legislation;
    The approaching milestone of 2015 for attainment of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), spurs renewed focus and a redoubling of efforts to attain, among others, the goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women;
    At the regional level, continued progress towards greater economic integration provides an opportunity for FEMCOM to expand its reach and deepen its programmes. The attainment of, or progress towards, COMESA/EAC/SADC Tripartite Agreement portend well for intra-regional trade and investment in general and opportunities for FEMCOM in particular. This is partly because of the enabling trade and investment environment that a regional policy convergence will provide;
    Market access initiatives like the EBA (Everything but Arms) or AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) also need to be capitalized on. Women entrepreneurs play an important part in this web of goals, policies and initiatives and FEMCOM would like to facilitate meaningful participation in this regard;
    At continental level, African Union has taken important tentative steps towards gender parity by allocating half of the commission positions to women. Most significantly, the Chairperson of African Union is a woman;
    At the local level, another notable and significant development is that the Government of Malawi which hosts FEMCOM Secretariat now has as its President, a woman with a very strong and remarkable background and experience in championing the cause of women in business in Africa and beyond;
    Advances in information technology – in particular the on-going installation of a series of fibre optic cables (encircling the African continent with the intention of interior penetration) will usher in an era of high-speed internet connectivity enabling faster communication. Furthermore, COMESA countries – and therefore FEMCOM – will be able to fully take advantage of the opportunities provided by Web 2.0 tools for business, social networking and training (e.g. access to webinars);
    Climate Change is now being mainstreamed at COMESA Secretariat and across its other institutions. Since women make up a majority of smallholder farms in Africa and other developing countries, it is important to take a holistic approach to climate change by involving women intrinsically if climate change initiatives are to be successful. In contrast to the options open to many men, few women can respond to drought, for example, by relocating to cities or other rural areas in search of work.

Review of FEMCOM Medium Term Strategic Plan for 2016-2020
Following the approval by COMESA to review the 2016–2020 FEMCOM Strategic Plan, FEMCOM Secretariat held two technical working sessions, working in close collaboration with FEMCOM Board, the Bureau in particular, COMESA Experts on Strategic Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation, Human Resources, Resource Mobilization, Gender & Social Affairs, and Public Relations.

The team drafted the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, which was reviewed by FEMCOM National Chapters, who also provided their inputs. External Consultants were engaged to assist in the finalization of the Strategic Plan. The final draft was presented to the Board for approval in accordance with the provisions of the FEMCOM Charter.