The Secretary-General has praised the leadership of women across the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 pandemic and says it is vital they keep up the momentum as equal partners in driving recovery.
Speaking in Nairobi at a gathering to mark International Women's Day, Patricia Scotland said women are key to the rebuilding of societies - designing, implementing, delivering and monitoring processes, including in law-making and developing policies.
Addressing the forum 'Women in Leadership - Achieving An Equal Future In A COVID-19 World', hosted by the Kenyan government, the Secretary-General said: "The contributions of women and girls will be vital as we work together to build back better and to shape a common future that is fairer, more inclusive, more equal and more sustainable.
"There is sufficient data to show that out of a sample of countries with similar socio-demographic and economic characteristics that were seen as important in the transmission of COVID-19, countries headed by women did considerably better than those headed by their male counterparts," she added.
The Secretary-General expressed concern that the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 could stall progress on women's rights; however, she said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of women being at the heart of decision-making and leadership.
"The argument for women empowerment and inclusion is really an argument for the fact? more open, inclusive and equitable societies are inherently better and evidentially, do perform better than others," she said.
Paying tribute to Kenya's commitment to gender equality, which she called "a beacon of light", the Secretary-General said that while female leadership was proving itself invaluable at a time of crisis, long-existing structural, social, and gender inequalities were exacerbated under the strain of the pandemic. Women bore the brunt of their unravelling societies, she said, and the rates of sexual and gender-based violence increased.
Kenya's first lady, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta agreed that 2020 has been a difficult year for women and girls due to the pandemic.
She said: “During this time, we are also reminded of the essential and important role women have played since the history of time as caregivers, peacemakers, and family and community organizers alongside domestic and professional responsibilities.
"This year’s global theme Women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world therefore resonates well with our current global circumstances”.
To accelerate action by member nations individually and collectively to achieve gender equality, the Commonwealth Secretariat works alongside ministries and government agencies towards Sustainable Development Goal 5: To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The Commonwealth Women’s Ministerial Meeting showed leadership during the course of the pandemic with Commonwealth Says NO MORE - an initiative bringing together the Commonwealth Secretariat and the NO MORE Foundation, launched last year to prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse by helping members: record accurate data on the prevalence of violence; deliver grassroots projects and train community leaders.