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The UK’s chair-in-office of the Commonwealth should be used to push gender equality goals

4 min read

Britain must use its time as chair-in-office to break down barriers to gender equality and secure an empowered future for women in the Commonwealth, writes Maria Miller

It is an exciting time for the Commonwealth. All eyes have been on Australia as it hosted the Commonwealth Games – the most gender-balanced multisport event in history, with an equal number of male and female events.

Now, the UK is hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), where Commonwealth leaders will discuss the most compelling issues under the broad themes of sustainability, security, prosperity and fairness. The Commonwealth Heads of Government are not quite as gender representative.

The Commonwealth summit includes forums for civil society, business, young people, and women, where representatives from across the Commonwealth bring focus and detail to discussions affecting these four key groups.

Discussions at the Women’s Forum will focus on how to implement measures to achieve gender equality by 2030, in accordance with SDG16, under the theme of ‘An Empowered Future for Women and Girls’. It will highlight the case for gender equality in all areas as a prerequisite for building a prosperous society. There is much to learn from each other – for example in sub-Saharan Africa, seven of the top 10 highest performing countries for gender equality are Commonwealth countries.

Yet although there is progress being made in gender equality around the world, the number of women in parliament remains woefully inadequate; and progress remains slow. In 20 years, there has only been an 11.3% increase in women in national parliaments. How can gender equality be achieved if there are not enough women decision-makers and legislators?

This issue will be addressed at the session the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) is running with the Commonwealth Local Government Forum at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum on ‘Women’s Political Leadership at All Levels’. Participants will hear from a range of women leaders on what they have learned through their experiences, and the key messages they can impart to others aspiring to be future leaders.

In the week following CHOGM, I will be taking part in similar discussions during the 2018 Conference for Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians from the British Islands and Mediterranean Region – including representatives from Scotland, Wales, Malta, Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, St Helena, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

More than 25 members of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians’ (CWP) network will contribute on how to further gender equality through policy, legislation and advocacy, and how to support and promote the representation of women in parliaments. This event will be hosted in Westminster by CPA UK, also showcasing Westminster’s Vote 100 celebrations.

Since joining CPA UK’s Executive Committee last year, this will be my second experience of the CWP network, which brings together women parliamentarians to share experiences and help build capacity. Members range from newly elected to experienced, from parliaments with a strong representation of women, to those numbering just one or two. It offers unique insights to help navigate the contemporary and perennial challenges of being a woman elected representative.

The sharing of experiences for the betterment of all is what the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association does; and as the UK begins its two-year chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, CPA UK will play a pivotal role in promoting the Commonwealth’s core values through its work.

For example, earlier this year CPA UK organised and ran a forum for nearly 100 parliamentarians and youth delegates to ensure that those who represent Commonwealth citizens were given an opportunity to add their voices to pre-CHOGM conversations in a way they had not before.

With 53 countries making up a third of the world’s population, the Commonwealth is a vibrant and diverse organisation which others want to join – the Gambia rejoined earlier this year, and it is hoped that Zimbabwe will do so shortly.

The UK’s chair-in-office should be used to continue achieving a sustainable difference in gender equality, including truly representative and inclusive democracies reflective of the people it serves.


Maria Miller is Conservative MP for Basingstoke, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and an Executive Committee member of CPA UK

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