As Commonwealth leaders meet, Womankind calls for a fairer future for all

Mike Clulow | Apr 17, 2018
Participants and panel members at CHOGM's women's forum

If you run in to the Ugandan President or the Prime Minister of Canada while snapping a photo of Big Ben this week, there’s no need to be surprised – from 16-20 April, London is hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, bringing together heads of state from all 53 Commonwealth member states. These biennial meetings – referred to as “CHOGM” – join representatives from governments and civil society alike to discuss global challenges and paths forward. This year, attendees are emphasising the importance of working towards a common – and fairer – future.

A vocation waiting to be fulfilled

The size, diversity and consensual approach of the Commonwealth give it the potential to be an important forum for promoting human rights and development – but many feel that it often falls short. For example, colonial-era British laws still inform official discrimination against LGBTI people in most member countries - 36 states criminalise sexual activity between consenting same-sex adults – and human rights organisations have criticised its reluctance to sanction some serious human rights violations committed by member states.

Nevertheless, there is a clear opportunity for CHOGM to promote not only human rights, but gender equality – which is enshrined as one of the core values of the Commonwealth Charter.

The Commonwealth and women’s rights

Patricia Scotland, the first-ever woman Secretary-General, identified gender equality as a key priority when she took office in April 2016. Together, member states aim to advance four key areas of gender equality: women in leadership, women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women and girls, and gender and climate change.

The Commonwealth Secretariat furthers this agenda through advocacy, policy advice, capacity building, and technical assistance, by convening meetings of ministers and others responsible for women’s affairs, and by encouraging effective gender mainstreaming. The Secretariat’s technical assistance includes research and policy development on a wide range of issues including women, peace and security, the gendered impact of international trade policies, gender-sensitive budgeting, and unpaid care.

Women’s Forum

During CHOGM, a series of forums provide opportunities for dialogue and debate and inform the discussions of government leaders. For the first time in 2015, these included a Women’s Forum and this year, representatives will again meet in such a forum, with Womankind’s Director of Policy, Programmes and Learning, Sarah Masters attending.  Our Chief Executive, Caroline Haworth, will also be at the parallel People’s Forum, tackling issues of exclusion and injustice.

As part of the Commonwealth’s wider commitment to "leave no one behind," the 2018 Women's Forum aims to send a clear message that gender equality, women's rights, and women's empowerment are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Delegates will discuss some of the Commonwealth’s priority areas for achieving gender equality including women’s leadership, peace and security, economic empowerment, education, and violence against women and girls,

Calling on the leaders

The theme of CHOGM 2018 is “towards a common future,” focusing on strengthening the ability of the Commonwealth to deliver a more sustainable, fair, secure and prosperous future for all its citizens. In this context, Womankind and our allies, including the Gender and Development Network, have several recommendations for the leaders gathered in London. For example, we’re calling on governments to support women in leadership by investing in spaces for women’s networking and peer exchange, to take action against child, early and forced marriage, to include binding commitments to protecting women’s rights in trade agreements, and to address the undervaluation of unpaid care, and extend legal and social protection to informal workers..

A common thread through these and our other recommendations is the need to put women’s rights organisations and movements (WROMs) front and centre. Time and again, it is their action – on policy and laws, on social change and in the provision of services – that makes the difference in realising women’s rights.

Womankind’s partners in Commonwealth countries

Womankind works with partners in several countries in the Commonwealth, including two of our focus countries Kenya and Uganda, as well as through support to the Women’s Legal Aid Centre in Tanzania (WLAC).

With funding from DFID and Womankind supporters, WLAC and Kenyan partner the Federation of Women’s Lawyers are doing vital work to end violence against women and girls while supporting survivors, including by opposing harmful practices such as FGM and child, early and forced marriage. In Uganda, new Womankind partners the National Association of Professional Environmentalists and the National Association for Women’s Action in Development are working with women whose livelihoods are under threat from Uganda’s land rush. With them, we recently published Digging Deep, a powerful call to action to ensure a sustainable, fair, secure and prosperous future for these women.

Standing with the changemakers

Without gender equality, a fairer future is impossible. At Womankind we are proud to support women’s rights organisations and movements as they act to bring about real change. We call on the leaders in London this week to join us in standing with these changemakers and to take action to effectively promote women’s rights throughout the Commonwealth.


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