Friday, March 9, 2012

Where women prosper, societies prosper

Women for Women, Join me on the Bridge campaign, Nigeria

© Women for Women International, Join me on the Bridge campaign, Nigeria 2011

International Women’s Day, now over 100 years old, gives all of us working in international development a chance to take stock and reflect on our progress on gender equality over the last year, and to ensure that going forward our work continues to have an impact and empowers women throughout the Commonwealth.  

At the Commonwealth Foundation, last year’s Commonwealth theme ‘Women as Agents of Change’ threw the issue of women’s rights and empowerment into sharp focus: though women make up 50% of the global population, they shoulder two-thirds of the world’s problems. Two thirds of those out of school are girls, two thirds of the world’s illiterate are women or girls, two thirds of those living with HIV/AIDs are women or girls.
Responding to the Commonwealth Theme, the Foundation established the Special Initiative Grant, allocating £100,000 to promote the significant contributions that women make to development and the untapped potential as Agents of Change. Six diverse civil society-led projects focusing on women and girls were supported: from women’s leadership in Africa to gender mainstreaming water resource management to investing in women with disabilities in the Solomon Islands. 
Gender equality was high on the agenda in the run up to the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia. Bringing together civil society actors from around the world, the Commonwealth Foundation facilitated the drafting and publication of the Civil Society Statement ahead of the meeting. Drawing attention to gender equality and women’s rights, the Statement called on governments to prioritise investment in girls’ education and training and to ensure women were represented at the highest levels in Commonwealth institutions. The communiqué issued by Commonwealth Heads of Government after their meeting agreed to intensify efforts to promote women’s decision-making roles at all levels and drew particular attention to the issues of violence against women and early and forced marriage.
In February 2012 the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action Monitoring Group met in New York ahead of the UN Women’s 56th Commission on the Status of Women summit. Following a competitive application process, the Commonwealth Foundation identified four exceptional women from Tonga, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda to join the Monitoring Group as civil society representatives and work with government representatives to promote and monitor the Gender Plan of Action throughout the Commonwealth. 
Speaking after the meeting, the Commonwealth Foundation’s Partnership Manager Diana Atungire-Ocaya said “With the current global economic crisis, it is clear that the negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of many women within the Commonwealth is intensified. It is critical that partnerships between governments and civil society are strengthened to share good practices on support to victims of gender based violence, women in politics and women’s economic empowerment.”  
Looking forward, the Commonwealth Foundation will continue to work with civil society representatives to support their implementation of the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action and will work with Commonwealth partners to ensure that civil society voices are heard at the Women Affairs’ Ministers’ Meeting in Bangladesh in April 2013. 
The vital role women play in shaping our world, and the responsibility all of us share to enable women to reach their potential, is clear. In his Commonwealth Day message last year, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma put it best: “Women are the barometers of society. Where women suffer, so too do the societies in which they live. Where women prosper, societies prosper.” 
This year the Commonwealth Foundation is pleased to support the Women for Women International’s campaign.

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