From promoting democracy and human rights and equal access to education and healthcare, to ensuring the world’s smallest and least developed countries have a say in global decision-making, the Commonwealth Secretariat has been promoting inclusion from its very inception.
As we celebrate our diversity on Commonwealth Day, experts from the Commonwealth Secretariat working in a range of fields reflect on what this year’s theme, “An Inclusive Commonwealth”, means to their work.
‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ is one which promotes fair and adequate international development financing policies that serve the interests of each and every member country. This is why our work is devoted to ensuring countries have an equal voice on important matters such as tax, remittances, debt sustainability, the need for debt relief and innovative finance and the risk of harmful financial regulations.
One of the defining features of the Commonwealth is its ‘youthfulness’ - over 60 percent of our citizens are aged under 30. It is therefore critical that young people are meaningfully included in the processes and institutions that affect their lives, and the societies in which they live. Empowered young people can, and do, make an enormous contribution to the success of the Commonwealth and our member states.
‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ is one in which young people are recognised as key actors in development, and are able to fully realise their potential as citizens and as change-makers. The Commonwealth is committed to promoting peace and prosperity by creating and supporting environments in which young people from all walks of life are valued, included and nurtured.
The Commonwealth places a high priority on being inclusive in the work that takes place between our governments. When our members take a shared position on a global challenge of the day, such as climate change, we ensure that our common position is one that is agreed by all governments and that takes all of our individual perspectives into account. We practice this spirit of inclusivity at the national level too.
This is well illustrated by the priority that our communities give to the culture and institutions of democracy, ensuring that the views of all citizens are taken into account. As the Commonwealth Charter states, this commitment to democracy ensures that every citizen is able to shape the society in which she or he lives, especially by being able to participate in free and fair elections. We also encourage and support inclusiveness through the Secretary-General's ‘Good Offices for Peace’ role, fostering a climate of mutual respect and bringing all relevant parties to the table in overcoming disagreement and achieving solutions to national political tension and challenges.
‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ is at the heart of our work in the Trade Division, as we seek to raise the capacity of our member states to improve their trade competitiveness and fully participate in global trade decision-making.
Many of our members are constrained by factors such as limited policy space and export diversification, small domestic markets and underdeveloped trade. We are committed to continue supporting our core values of equality and diversity and working towards an inclusive Commonwealth in which our most vulnerable states are bolstered and our developing or emerging economies can flourish.
‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ means no one is left behind. This theme is very relevant to our work on Small States, which face several unique development challenges as a result of their size and limited resources. These issues can get lost in the global discourse on development, so we need to ensure that they are addressed. Otherwise, the divide between Small States and the rest of the world will only grow. Striving for an inclusive Commonwealth means focusing on our most vulnerable members – our small states.
Human rights are inherently inclusive. We work to ensure that they are enjoyed by all people in the Commonwealth at all times. Where alienation, discrimination and marginalisation prevail, where we exclude the voices of others or treat them differently because they hold an opposing opinion, worship differently, or lead a different lifestyle, we not only foster resentment and undermine social cohesion, but we deny the enjoyment of fundamental human rights to our fellow human beings and demean the core values and principles of the Commonwealth.
The theme resonates well with our debt management programme, which provides support to over 45 member countries, primarily through our flagship software solution, the Commonwealth Secretariat Debt Recording and Management System. This is complemented by policy advisory services that encourage institutional reform and build capacity to help countries effectively manage their debt.
We are aware of the increasing demands on debt managers as a consequence of the changing global economic challenges, and it is our vision to be inclusive by helping to create and sustain excellence in debt management across the Commonwealth.
‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ perfectly complements our priorities in health and education, which include the right to universal health coverage and equitable and quality education in pursuit of the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals. Regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, disability, sexuality or belonging to a minority or marginalised group, we believe that all Commonwealth citizens are entitled to a life of well-being, in a society defined by tolerance and mutual respect.
Our diversity promotes innovation and learning and enriches our society. We continue to advocate for excellence in health and education in the Commonwealth for inclusive and sustainable development.
This year’s Commonwealth Day theme is aligned to the Public Sector Governance Unit’s strategy for strengthening accountability and inclusiveness of public institutions, and improving the quality of policy development and implementation. Ultimately, our aim is to ensure government spending yields maximum results for all citizens.
The Commonwealth is keenly aware of the link between good governance, democracy and development. Therefore our interventions are at the centre of government and aim to strengthen weak governmental structures and enable policy makers to respond to significant national and international issues, including health, education, energy, climate disasters, crime, security and political inclusiveness.
The Commonwealth Charter speaks of the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. With a common legal heritage and tradition, the Commonwealth Secretariat is able to support member states to share best practice, model laws and legal principles in order to develop laws that eliminate discriminating barriers and inequities, strengthen cooperation in legal matters and enable sustainable development.
‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ is one where every girl, boy, woman and man can realize their full potential and not be discriminated against due to their age, race, language, place of residence, religion, sex, gender or sexual orientation. Our work centres on key aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment that promote institutional and social transformations through advocacy, policy advice, gender mainstreaming and technical assistance for a more equitable, better and sustainable world.