Samoa Hosts 11th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting

The 11th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting (WAMM) will be held from 7-8 September 2016 in Apia, hosted by the Government of Samoa.

The main theme of the meeting is ‘Gender equality through sustainable development in an inclusive commonwealth’, with key sub-themes including gender and climate change, women’s leadership, violence against women and girls, and intergenerational partnerships for sustainable development.

The key objectives of the 11th WAMM are:

  • Discussing proposed Commonwealth priorities on gender equality and women’s rights in the period of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Exploring the critical emerging issues on gender equality and women’s empowerment to promote inclusive development and democracy.
  • Re-positioning the Commonwealth and its commitments to gender equality and women’s rights.

According to Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who arrives into Apia this evening, the meeting will guide the implementation of the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action (PoA) is an opportunity for practical transformative actions and initiatives linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2015:

“Quite naturally, given the significance of the Commonwealth contribution towards defining global development priorities for the next 15 years, the goals of the Agenda are our Commonwealth priorities too. It is therefore very clear that Commonwealth cooperation and collaborative efforts need to be directed towards helping our member states to reach these goals within the framework of our Commonwealth Charter.”

Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) is a critical reminder, she says, [and] that women have a critical role to play:

“(and) many of the targets recognise the centrality of gender and women’s empowerment as dynamic forces for achieving lasting change and implementing sustainable solutions. Women have a right to full equality and dignity in all areas of leisure, learning, work and domestic life. This must be embedded across legal systems, upheld in both laws and legal practices, and in the economic and political realms. Advancing women’s political participation and leadership and economic empowerment are critical building blocks for achieving the SDGs.”

The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meetings have been held triennially since 1985. They provide strategic opportunities for ministers, senior officials, civil society organisations and partner agencies to discuss critical issues in advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality in the Commonwealth. They also contribute to global agenda-setting processes and meetings are used to:

  • Build consensus on Commonwealth issues;
  • Develop a Commonwealth position or statement on global issues. Informally exchange views outside of a negotiating forum;
  • Share good practices, building on members’ shared legal, administrative, and educational systems;
  • Discuss programme priorities and strategic directions;
  • Make recommendations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Women’s Forum;
  • Strengthen and forge partnerships with governments, corporate bodies, development actors and civil societies.

Read the full Gender Equality Programme of Action here.

The 10th WAMM was held in Bangladesh in 2013. A full copy of the outcomes document can be read here.

Since taking office on 1 April 2016, Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, has been focused on helping Commonwealth countries to achieve the recently ratified United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, work towards the delivery of COP 21 and to uphold The Commonwealth Charter.

She has identified the following priorities: tackling the existential threat of climate change; promoting trade, good governance and human rights; ending violence against women and girls and promoting gender equality; and providing new opportunities for Commonwealth young people and enabling the next generation to achieve their full potential.

In July 2016, she has convened a summit of senior leaders from across the globe to discuss next steps for gender equality. The summit focused on three key areas violence against women and girls, women in leadership and women’s economic empowerment.

Key recommendations from the summit include:

  • Supporting the enactment and reinforcement of penal and civil sanctions to end violence against women;
  • Developing training programmes for judicial, legal, medical, social, education and police personnel;
  • Engaging women-led organisations to amplify the voices of survivors and mobilising men and boys to change attitudes towards violence to women and girls;
  • Advocating for a minimum of 30% representation of women in senior positions in the public and private sectors;
  • Supporting review of electoral systems to encourage political parties to integrate women; Convening a summit with headhunters to explore and enhance more diversity in executive-level recruitment;
  • Creating a commonwealth mentoring scheme for women and girls;
  • Improving access to finance for women in business and promoting trade locally and globally;
  • Calling on global and national companies to publish data on the treatment of women in their companies; in terms of pay, parental leave, number and seniority of positions filled and work environment.

Read more about the women’s summit here.