DSC 4600This month the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Royal Over-Seas League convened the panel discussion, ‘Adding Global Value: Women’s Views on CHOGM’.  It was chaired by Catherine Mayer, founder of the Women’s Equality Party and brought together female leaders to discuss issues affecting women throughout the Commonwealth. What was stark about the discussion was the number of problems common to all, albeit each came from a different region of the Commonwealth.

The Malta Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2015 will include the first Women’s Forum themed ‘Women Ahead Be All that You Can Be’ endorsing a strong message of female empowerment. The Forum will focus on the lack of female leadership in fields such as politics, business and education and address the question, ‘How can the Commonwealth add value?’

“It will be impossible to advance if we exclude half of the workforce” was the statement made by The Rt. Hon. the Lord Howell of Guildford, President of the Royal Commonwealth Society in his introductory remarks. Catherine Mayer developed this by stating that it was an issue that affected everybody not just women and highlighting that, of the 2.2 billion people in the Commonwealth, 1.3 billion are women and it was therefore essential that their views were represented at CHOGM.

Deborah Leary, Director and Co-Chair of the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network (CBW) focused on the issue of women giving particular emphasis to the need to economically empower them. She emphasised that it was through the sharing of stories’ data and successful action that progress would be made.  

Tina Taylor, former CIO at GE Lighting and Founder and Chairman of the Heritage Leadership Academy shared her story and experience of a career in a male-dominated environment. Tina described how she had recently established the Heritage Leadership Academy, an organisation dedicated to building the next generation of women leaders in the field of science. The Academy will be a boarding school for girls in Africa with a focus on STEM education. The hope is that the school will prepare young women to compete on a global scale. Gender and Education will part of the core agenda at the Women’s Forum with a particular emphasis given to the need to expand access to learning opportunities for girls.  

Kim Simplis Barrow, First Lady of Belize and Special Envoy for Women and Children developed the importance of the need to educate, drawing on her experience in Belize in addressing the issue of sexual violence against women and children. She shared how she had developed a national campaign, ‘my body is precious’ which had resulted in a rally of 20,000 women in a country with a population of 300,000. The rally has put women at the forefront; action is therefore essential in order to gain momentum and change.

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre and Creator and Director of the Women of the World Festival (WOW), drew on panellists’ previous points: the need to educate, change stories and be pro-active. Jude stressed the need to join initiatives together to create a truly effective global movement. WOW is one such forum which celebrates women’s achievements and addresses challenges. In 2018, WOW Commonwealth will launch as part of the Commonwealth Games, celebrating women and girls from all 53 countries of the Commonwealth.

It is hoped that through movements such as these gender equality and female empowerment will not just be seen as something that will eventually be got around to. The Commonwealth can serve as a valuable platform to raise the profile of these issues and to develop a common response. That the outcomes of the Women’s Forum will feed into the CHOGM Communique is of vital importance, denoting the direction the Commonwealth will take in future years. 

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