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Mainstreaming gender equality and empowering women in policy

The two years covered here, from July 2013 to June 2015, were a period of transformation for the Commonwealth Secretariat as we worked to translate into practical action our Strategic Plan from 2013/14 to 2016/17. The Plan is a clearly signposted roadmap, following implementation of the most fundamental reforms for a generation, both of the work we do and of the way we do it.

Commonwealth Secretariat outcomes: Gender equality

  • Produced the publication Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines for Project Planning to assist staff in designing gender responsive projects
  • Provided staff with mainstreaming tools and has begun to provide training in gender analysis
  • With technical expertise from the Secretariat, South Africa passed a gender bill mainstreaming gender in every institution in the country
  • With technical expertise from the Secretariat, Trinidad and Tobago developed gender-responsive budgeting guidelines for institutionalising gender equality and gender-mainstreaming practices in government ministries
  • Published four case studies of gender responsive budgeting in member countries
  • The Secretariat report Gender, Trade and Public Procurement Policy provided good practice examples from four member countries that have built gender into their procurement processes. Information is being utilised by countries that wish to mainstream gender in procurement processes
  • With technical expertise from the Secretariat, Rwanda revised a procurement bill to strengthen gender equality in procurement systems
  • The Commonwealth publication The Impact of Women’s Political Leadership on Democracy and Development: Case Studies from the Commonwealth assisted the Government of The Bahamas to develop a training package for women leaders aspiring to join politics across the country
  • UN Women translated the Secretariat publication Gender and Trade Action Guide into Arabic

Between 2013 and 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat, guided by the Commonwealth Gender Equality Policy, took a concerted and systematic approach to mainstreaming gender equality principles and measures. The Secretariat reallocated resources and launched new capacity building initiatives to mainstream gender so that all Secretariat work takes gender considerations fully into account, whether in its internal structures and processes and policies or in the support provided through its programmes for member countries. In mainstreaming gender, the Secretariat aims to ensure that women and men benefit equally and to avoid perpetuating current inequalities.

The Secretariat worked closely with governments, international institutions, NGOs and women’s organisations to deepen the understanding and implementation of gender-responsive policies, such as gender-responsive budgets, targets for women in political and business leadership and laws to protect women from gender-based violence.

Commonwealth focus areas on empowering women

The Commonwealth Secretariat promoted the economic empowerment of women through programmes addressing economic and financial policies that exclude women, gender-blind procurement and supply chains, and women’s lack of participation in economic decision-making. The Secretariat published case studies on gender responsive budgeting in Australia, Bangladesh, India and Uganda, which highlight effective methods, key issues and challenges in mainstreaming gender. Another report published by the Secretariat on gender, trade and procurement describes how four member countries, Australia, India, Jamaica and Kenya, have mainstreamed gender into procurement processes.

In 2014, the Secretariat began planning, in partnership with the Government of Malta, for the first Commonwealth Women’s Forum, which will be held on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2015 in Malta. The theme of the forum is ‘Women ahead: be all you can be’. This Forum will serve as a step towards ensuring the Commonwealth’s gender commitments remain high on the agenda of leaders.

The Secretariat provided technical expertise to member countries to help empower women and to build frameworks for gender equality. South Africa passed a bill mainstreaming gender in every institution in the country. The Secretariat assisted Rwanda’s Ministry for Gender and Family Promotion to mainstream gender into a revised procurement bill as part of reforms in legal and institutional frameworks for public financial management.

Production of the Commonwealth Illustrative Trends Analysis for the End Term Review of the Plan of Action on Women’s Political Participation resulted in the UK instituting a mechanism for increasing women’s leadership following the 10th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (10WAMM) in June 2013. The 10WAMM report outlined key issues and recommendations for the promotion of women’s leadership, entrepreneurship and gender equality.

In 2013, the annual consultation of Commonwealth National Women’s Machineries was convened under the theme ‘Women’s Leadership for Democracy and Development’. The meeting enabled Commonwealth members to share and contribute to knowledge on reducing barriers to leadership across the Commonwealth and yielded strategies to strengthen women’s leadership, including institutionalising mechanisms to advance women’s political participation. Members also developed Commonwealth gender priorities contributing to the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Prior to the meeting, the Secretariat convened a joint session with the African Union’s Directorate of Women, Gender and Development, which focuses focusing on women’s leadership concerns and promoting government–civil society partnerships for inclusive and sustainable development. Participants at the session acknowledged similar challenges and collective efforts to strengthen women’s political and economic development.

The Secretariat commissioned research on the impact of women’s political leadership on democracy and development in Rwanda. The research was validated at a multi-stakeholder forum to identify specific mechanisms for universal application across the Commonwealth, and explored the role of Rwanda in advancing the model across the Commonwealth and globally.

In 2013, the Secretariat convened a Women’s Business Forum in partnership with the Commonwealth Business Council and Commonwealth Business Women’s Network. During the launch of the Commonwealth Business Women’s Leadership Group in Sri Lanka, the Secretariat collaborated with the Commonwealth Business Women’s Network and set up the Commonwealth Businesswomen Business Xchange Platform on Commonwealth Connects.

In 2013, the Secretariat followed up on 10WAMM and CHOGM with important initiatives on women, business and trade. The Secretariat prepared a policy brief on National Women’s Machineries for the CHOGM Business Forum, which was attended by representatives of over 48 Commonwealth countries.

Getting more women onto the boards of corporations is a Commonwealth priority. The Secretariat commissioned a study of women in leadership to establish baseline data on the proportion of women serving in civil services and on state-owned enterprises and corporate boards across the Commonwealth. The Secretariat developed a roadmap and co-ordinated responses to strengthen women’s economic empowerment, also encouraging women across the Commonwealth to join the ‘Global Board Ready Women’ database initiative. Information briefs were developed and circulated among National Women’s Machineries and professional women’s networks.

In March 2014, at the Secretariat-facilitated National Women’s Machineries meeting, delegates shared case studies on national initiatives. Businesswomen offered practical advice on incorporating gender issues into global value chains and increasing women’s access to finance. Before the meeting, the Secretariat arranged a roundtable on gender and procurement. In June 2015 after concluding the baseline research on women in leadership, the Secretariat partnered with the International Labour Organization and UN Women’s regional office in Nairobi to hold an advocacy event on increasing women’s participation at higher levels of decisionmaking in the public and private sector. 

Prioritising gender in the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth Secretariat distributed guidelines on how to mainstream gender into project planning to all staff, and further provided training and technical advice for several divisions. Work is ongoing with divisions with the aim that all Secretariat programmes and policies will incorporate clear indicators for progress on gender equality. On the Vacancies section of the Secretariat’s website, gender equality is clearly articulated as a core Commonwealth value and links are provided to the Commonwealth Charter and the institutional Gender Equality Policy. Gender equality principles and approaches are included in a number of policies in the new Staff Handbook and in person specifications for Secretariat recruitment.