The Second Commonwealth Women’s Forum begins in London on Monday with a call for women’s rights to be firmly on the agenda of leaders when they meet later in the week.
At the three-day meeting, delegates will discuss women in leadership, the sexual well-being of women and girls and boosting women’s economic opportunities.
Speakers include heads of government from Bangladesh, Jamaica, Malawi, Malta and the United Kingdom. The former prime minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard and Jamaica’s minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade Kamina Johnson-Smith will also address the gathering.
Patricia Scotland, the first woman to hold the post of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, said: “Next week the leaders of our 53 Commonwealth member countries will hear the voices of women who are in the vanguard of advocacy and activism to remove the barriers which have for centuries held women back.”
She added: “The Commonwealth Women’s Forum will shine the spotlight on challenges that hinder progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The focus will be on promoting the sexual health and rights of women and adolescent girls, ending human trafficking, child exploitation and harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting, addressing gender discrimination in government, public and private sectors and progressively removing obstacles that stand in the way of women fulfilling their social and economic potential.”
“This is an opportunity for the women of the Commonwealth to celebrate our achievements and to say to those who sit at the highest level of power and decision-making, ‘it’s time for robust policies that will accelerate progress on women’s rights and empowerment.’”
Heads of government and their spouses or partners, government ministers, senior officials, civil society leaders, global activists and internationally renowned professionals and business leaders will attend the meeting.
The Commonwealth Women’s Forum will take place from 16 to 18 April. It is jointly organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, its development partners and the CHOGM host.
Amelia Kinahoi Siamomua, head of gender at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the meeting was coming at a crossroads for women’s rights and empowerment. “We only have 12 years to the 2030 goals for women’s empowerment and gender equality. This Forum recognises the unique challenges still facing heterosexual women, LGBTI women, women of colour and women of all identities. Development agencies trying to advance women’s rights in most Commonwealth countries are the least resourced. We have the right declarations and frameworks in place, but we must invest in those commitments.”
The forum will build on the Commonwealth’s track record of tackling key issues such as ending violence against women, protecting women’s land rights and working with governments and traditional leaders to change perspectives on child marriage. It will set the agenda for the Commonwealth’s involvement in the international campaign for zero tolerance on gender-based election violence.
Delegates will review the Commonwealth’s new handbook and checklist for gender inclusive elections which will both be launched next week.