Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Women’s Forum

I was delighted to be part of the UK Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Women’s Forum in Malta which took place from the 22- 24 November 2015. This was a historic event as it was the first time there had ever been a women’s forum. The theme of the Forum was: ‘Woman Ahead: Be All That You Can Be’. The Forum focused on the importance of Women’s economic, social and political empowerment and the need to strengthen women’s participation and leadership in all areas: education, health, employment, technology, political and economic decision making and the judiciary. The Forum identified the opportunities and the barriers that women face in the twenty-first century. There are 1 billion women and girls throughout the 53 countries of the commonwealth.

On Sunday 22 November at the inauguration ceremony the main address was given by The Prime Minster of Malta, The Hon Joseph Muscat and by the President of Malta Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. In Malta the Government had provided free universal child care and were looking to provide tax breaks to married women after the age of 40 years. At the Forum there were over 400 delegates from 32 countries. The day ended with songs by 3 generations of singers and young children. We all sang a rousing rendition of “Sisters are doing it for themselves”.

The following day there were 3 different panels for discussion: ‘Women in Leadership’, ‘Women, Media and Technological Development’ and ‘Women in Social Development’. Ms Jackie Leonard reminded us of the Bechdel test which questions whether there are two or more women on a panel- an important indication of equal gender representation.
Dr Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj said that companies with gender diversity did better in the financial crisis. She called on us to make it personal. If we carry on at this rate our granddaughter will not achieve wage parity.
Dr Elvia George from the Bank of Valletta said that in the EU employment for men is more than for women in all the member states. She said 2.3% of companies globally have a female executive. We need to close the Gender pay gap.

On Tuesday I attended the Gender and Education workshop. It was suggested that women are disadvantaged in rights, resources and having a voice. Poverty has a female face. Of the world’s poor 70% are women. Women face cognitive epistemic injustice. There needs to be a trans formation of lifelong learning. Walls can be turned to bridges. I suggested a recommendation should be that each country should have an Equalities Commission to monitor progress on equality targets.

CHOGM UK delegation

The picture shows the UK delegation (from left to right): Helen Haywood,CPA UK, Fiona MacTaggart MP, Valerie and Dr Sarah Childs. Dr Roberta Blackman Woods and Baroness Elizabeth Berridge were the other attendees.

The Women’s Forum set out 27 points for the Commonwealth Heads of Government to recognise. Most significantly, the Women’s Forum requested that the Commonwealth Heads of Government endorse the Forum’s outcome:

Called for the government to establish an independent Technical Working Group of Experts on Gender Equality to enable Women’s empowerment through transformative systems for education, health and employment opportunities to follow-up on priorities for gender equality and women’s empowerment in alignment with the targets for the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to report progress to subsequent CHOGM.

Me and the Nigerian delegate

Once the outcomes had been agreed and there to be further amendments following delegates interventions, I asked how the conclusions would be given to the Heads of Government. To which the response was simply that there are processes which it needs to go through and was to be given in essence to the Foreign Secretaries who would pass it on to the Heads of Government. In suggested that as the President was a woman and had addressed the Forum, she should give it the president should give it directly to the Heads of Government.

As the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr Ban Ki-moon, sadi: ‘Justice for women takes more than new laws and new funding. Ultimately, we need new mindsets’. This historic CHOGM Women’s Forum is a step in the right direction to achieving equality for all women across the globe, and ultimately, for true democracy.