The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting opened this week in The Bahamas with a call for stronger action on gender equality priorities in the face of intensifying global environmental and economic challenges.
Against the backdrop of a recent United Nations report projecting that achieving gender equality, at the current pace, may take 300 years, the meeting offers women’s affairs ministers a critical platform to take stock of the current status of gender equality and work together on strategies to accelerate progress on shared priorities.
The meeting was opened by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, and the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, the Hon Philip Davis KC, on 21 August 2023. It was attended by more than 80 ministers and senior officials from across the Commonwealth’s six regions.
“It’s time to demolish the walls of the old boys club,” said Prime Minister Philip Davis in his keynote address. “Only when opportunities are opened up more widely, will we truly be making the most of the talent and ingenuity of all of humanity.”
He described the Commonwealth women’s affairs ministers meeting as “an ideal platform”, adding that: “The discussions and resolutions that emerge will pave the path for the agenda for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa. Your work can be the catalyst for much-needed momentum toward a better, more just world for everyone.”
In her opening remarks, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland – the first woman to hold the post – told officials that she has mainstreamed gender across all areas of her organisation’s work to help member countries achieve their development goals more equitably.
She added: “As we meet today, our world faces serious challenges: the long shadow of COVID-19; crippling debt, rising inflation and high interest rates … and the increasingly harsh impacts of climate change. In each of them, the impact on women and girls is disproportionate. But together, we are more than equal to the challenges we face.”
“This is our time,” said the Secretary-General. “Let us resolve that the chapter we will write together here in The Bahamas will lead us to a safer, more sustainable, more equal and more prosperous future for all.
She continued: “If, in The Bahamas, we, the Commonwealth, came together and were able to free Nelson Mandela. Isn’t it time now we free the women of the world? As Nelson Mandela once said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. So, let’s do it.”
Secretary-General Scotland stressed that accelerated action on gender equality is at the heart of the success of the Commonwealth in the face of the ongoing challenges and pledged her continued support to the ministers.
The decisions from the three-day meeting will feed into an action plan, designed to end gender inequality in several Commonwealth priority areas.
These priority areas range from women’s inclusion in climate solutions, ending gender-based violence to increased support for women with disabilities and better representation in leadership.
The outcomes from the meeting will be considered by leaders at the 2024 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa.
Hosted by the Government of The Bahamas, the meeting is being chaired by the country’s Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon Obediah Wilchcombe.
He said: “This is our time. Our people expect – and will want from us – exceptional leadership. Leadership that can make change happen… We have done it here in The Bahamas before. It was 1985 when the Commonwealth met in The Bahamas and made great strides and a big step toward the release of Nelson Mandela.”
Minister Wilchcombe continued: “And six years later, he walked a free man, free of the chains and the shackles. It is now our time to unchain and remove the shackles from the women. We have the opportunity [and] the strengths of the Commonwealth to collectively make this change happen.
This is the 13th triennial meeting of Commonwealth women’s affairs ministers, which is being held in the capital city of Nassau, from 21 to 23 August 2023.