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Commonwealth Chair-in-Office spearheads women’s leadership panel

14 September 2011
Speakers at high-level UN dialogue include Hillary Clinton and Michelle Bachelet

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join other prominent women leaders for a high-level dialogue at the United Nations in New York on 19 September.

The event on 'Women’s Political Participation' is spearheaded by Ms Persad-Bissessar, who is also Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. She will be representing the views of the Commonwealth on the issue of women’s empowerment, which ties in with the 2011 theme for the 54-member Commonwealth: ‘Women as Agents of Change’.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma will attend the meeting, which takes place in the wings of the 66th United Nations General Assembly. It is expected to attract heads of government, ministers, senior diplomats and representatives from civil society.

Other speakers on the panel are Helen Clark, UN Under-Secretary-General and Administrator of UNDP; Michelle Bachelet, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women; Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff; Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission; Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva; and Dr Lilia Labidi, Tunisia’s Minister of Women’s Affairs.

Leaders are expected to sign a joint statement setting out their shared goals. Discussions will focus on creating an ongoing framework for women’s political participation with proposals for tangible projects aimed at enabling young women’s inclusion in democratic politics.

The Secretary-General reiterated the Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting mechanisms to ensure that UN resolutions on women’s political participation are reached. These commitments and measures are also in line with the targets set out in the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action, which provides the framework for the Commonwealth’s contribution to advancing gender equality.

“Women’s representation at leadership level is vital to achieving democracy and development, the Commonwealth’s key pillars,” said Mr Sharma, speaking in London ahead of the UN event.

“Political participation does not stop at women’s right to vote. I remind leaders of the agreed Commonwealth goals of 30 per cent women’s participation in parliament – and ultimately parity. Investing in women, including in leadership, is an important barometer of growth and development,” Mr Sharma added.

Monday’s panel discussion follows on from the first Caribbean Regional Colloquium on Women’s Political Participation which took place in June and was hosted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. The event was organised in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership, the Organization of American States, and UN Women.

The resulting Port of Spain Consensus on Transformational Leadership for Gender Equality reiterated calls for an increase in women’s representation in cabinet, parliament and local government and the strengthening of mechanisms to implement commitments to gender equality.

In a statement to launch the dialogue, Ms Persad-Bissessar said: “Today, the call of women in our region for political parity and inclusion into the processes which shape our nations’ development will be taken a step further into an international forum.”