(Press release) Visionary women leaders from across the Commonwealth came together in London yesterday to commit to safeguarding women and girls from domestic and sexual violence.
Under this commitment, women leaders from different professions will coordinate actions for individuals, households and communities to protect women and girls, including in hard-to-reach areas across the 56 Commonwealth countries.
This collective effort will contribute to the gender equality mandates from the 2023 Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting and the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The event, convened by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, on 15 November, was attended by Her Majesty The Queen and more than a hundred representatives from government, business, academic and civil society.
‘Together, we can’
Opening the event, the Commonwealth Secretary-General called on women leaders to work together to help eradicate the silent pandemic of domestic and sexual violence.
“The widespread prevalence of domestic and sexual abuse, which affects one in three women in their lifetimes, and the pernicious impact on survivors, families, communities and economies are a constant reminder that action is urgently required.
“For far too long and far too often, we are told it is impossible to end this… But, today, we reject that notion and say NO MORE because together, we can.”
“We have invited you,” the Secretary-General continued, “to examine what we can do together and establish a new commitment”, adding: “So that we may finally deliver a world in which no woman fears the footsteps behind her, and where no child cowers in the shadows of abuse.”
Speakers, representing governments, the private sector and civil society organisations, examined three core areas in panel discussions: the role of advocacy; the impact of domestic violence on the mental health of women and children; and the support for the survivors and their families.
Commonwealth first ladies Fatima Maada Bio of Sierra Leone, Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow of The Gambia, and Maryam Mwinyi of Zanzibar, discussed alarming statistics which laid bare the plight of the millions of women and girls who are abused, isolated and even killed in their homes.
‘Hands off our girls’
“The statistics are horrible,” the First Lady of Sierra Leone said, adding: “They constantly remind us of the mammoth task ahead. But together, we can, and we must end this violence.”
Underscoring the power of advocacy, she spoke about her ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign, which pushes for targeted measures for the protection of women and girls in Sierra Leone. As a result of her advocacy, the minimum sentencing for rape in Sierra Leone has been increased from four months to 15 years.
During the discussions, speakers outlined specific measures, such as early childhood education to dismantle harmful cultural norms, one-stop centres to offer non-judgemental health, legal and counselling support, campaigns to engage men, and legislation to enshrine equality under the law to help bring an end to the violence.
The 2023 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year, Maya Kirti Nanan, drew attention to the increased vulnerability of people with disabilities to violence, urging governments to recognise and address their unique safeguarding needs.
Umutoni Gatsinzi Nadine, Chief Gender Monitor at Rwanda’s Gender Monitoring Office, shared her country’s successful interventions, including one-stop centres offering free services and mobile clinics reaching remote communities.
Through these efforts, she said, Rwanda has increased the conviction rate for violence against women and girls from about 13 per cent to 70 per cent.
Her Majesty The Queen
Later in the day, Her Majesty The Queen joined to receive a report on the event’s outcomes from the Commonwealth Secretary-General, speakers and discussion moderators.
Closing the event, the Secretary-General thanked The Queen for her support and asked attendees to commit at least one action to improve the well-being of women and girls.
Other speakers at the event included: Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General; Saima Wazed, Chairperson of Shuchona Foundation and Advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Mental Health and Autism; Jane Randel, Chair of the NO MORE Foundation; Jude Kelly CBE, Founder and Chair, WOW Foundation; Sarah Brown, Chair of Theirworld charity and Executive Chair of Global Business Coalition for Education; and representatives from the WHO and global health organisation, PATH.
In her remarks, Jane Randel informed attendees about the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign, adding that it offers easy-to-use tools to individuals, communities and governments to bring down cases of domestic and sexual violence.
Expanding on Jane’s insights, video messages from the NO MORE Foundation’s chapters in Cameroon and Cyprus showcased successful interventions to affect positive change at the grassroots level, including through the engagement with the private sector.
The recommendations from the event will guide the work being undertaken through the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign.