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Secretary-General Designate targets women’s education to build an inclusive Commonwealth

14 March 2016

Commonwealth Secretary-General Designate, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, has called for action to improve the educational attainment of women and girls, vowing to make their empowerment a priority when she takes office on 1 April.

Addressing a Commonwealth Day seminar organised by the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, the Secretary-General Designate stressed that more must be done to improve the life chances of females if Commonwealth member countries, communities and businesses are to prosper.

“We know that an increase in female education tends to correlate with higher levels of development,” she said, pointing to troubling rates of illiteracy and limited access to education for millions of girls around the world. More than two-thirds of the more than 770 million illiterate people in the world are female.

“This is not just a problem for them, it is a problem for all of us, because whether we are boy, girl, man or woman we all live in the same world, and that world needs all the brain power, creativity and productivity it can get,” she said, quoting former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The Secretary-General Designate was born in Dominica and was the country's candidate at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta last November. She will be the second Secretary-General from the Caribbean and the first woman to hold the post, succeeding Kamalesh Sharma, from India, who has held the post since 2008.

“As the first woman to be entrusted with the role of Commonwealth Secretary-General, I intend to make the role of women and women’s empowerment a big part of what I do,” she said.

In her address at the Commonwealth Day seminar, held in the UK Houses of Parliament, Patricia Scotland QC stressed that slow educational progress early in life has a huge impact on the prospects for women, and also holds back national economies and enterprises as talented individuals fail to rise through the workforce.

“The most successful businesses are those that have 50 percent men and 50 percent women. Gender equality actually drives wealth and best practice,” she stressed. “The challenge for us is, how do we make sure that ability and ingenuity comes to the fore? How do we squeeze all the talent from all our people?”

The Secretary-General Designate also highlighted the tragedy of domestic violence waged against women and girls, with one in three woman globally estimated to fall victim to physical abuse. “It detrimentally affects millions of children all over the world and it has a direct impact on the ability of those children to meet their developmental milestones both physically and educationally. Children who live with and suffer from domestic violence tend to underachieve in every form of test,” she said.

The Council for Education in the Commonwealth, a non-governmental organisation, promotes public discourse on education and training across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. Its annual Commonwealth Day Westminster Seminar on 14 March drew inspiration from the association’s theme for 2016, ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’, with speakers exploring the relationship between education, inclusion and equity.

Sonny Leong, Chair of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, congratulated the Secretary-General Designate, just a fortnight before she takes over at the Commonwealth Secretariat. He also commended Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma for his years of service, saying: “It must be said that he has been a great advocate for promoting Commonwealth principles and values.”

Other speakers at the Commonwealth Day seminar included Fatimah Kelleher, a consultant in international social development engaged in women’s rights activism, Stephen Woodhouse, Executive Director of the Kartika Soekarno Foundation for Indonesian children, and Dr Susie Miles, founder of the Enabling Education Network, which supports the inclusion of marginalised groups in education worldwide.

Commonwealth Day 2016