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Picture of Patricia Scotland and Dr Natalia Kanem

"Be the change we wish to see" The Commonwealth and United Nations Population Fund celebrate Mandela Day

15 July 2021

As we prepare to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day - a day to honour the legacy of the much-loved icon - the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC Secretary-General of the Commonwealth invited UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, to discuss the values of championing social justice, volunteering and community service. 

Personal experiences

During Commonwealth Conversation’s fireside chat, the two leaders discuss the significance of celebrating the day, their personal experiences and the challenges and successes they have faced as black women. 

“My journey has been one of looking at the service of others, watching the way my family and people I loved, like Mandela, challenged the reality that they were living in and overcame it – that I think was the real catalyst for me for changing and for trying to be the difference,” said Secretary-General Scotland. 

Inspiration from Nelson Mandela

Emphasising the inspiration Nelson Mandela had on her life, Dr Kanem confided that she is the mother of an only son whose name is Mandela. When discussing her favourite Mandela quote (below), Dr Kanem noted that this particular quote has been a driver to her identity, as a physician and as someone who tries to heal some of the wounds of the world:  

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” Nelson Mandela 

Dr Kanem stressed that this Mandela quote is what she would like to see for women and girls globally and highlighted some of the key results of the recent UNFPA State of the World Population Report, which focussed on claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination. 

Women's leadership

Around the world, women’s leadership and political and economic participation remain restricted. Women are underrepresented in decision-making positions - whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector, scientific settings, academia, and other fields. Structural barriers, entrenched attitudes, and the disproportionate effects of poverty mean women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders. These barriers are further exacerbated for people of colour. 

Secretary-General Scotland noted that at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum in 2015, women said: “On our own, we are invisible. Together, we are invincible”. She stressed the need to work collectively on climate change, against racism and gender-based violence, and other issues to be the change we wish to see.