By Rabindra Rooplall in Kigali, Rwanda
UNDER the theme, “Delivering a Common Future: Transforming for Gender Equality,” the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) week of activities, kicked off on Monday with a forum that addressed women in leadership, women’s economic empowerment, and engaging men and boys, as well as different generations, in ending violence against women and girls.
The opening of the Commonwealth Women’s Forum (CWF) in Rwanda was attended by Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth Secretary-General; H.E. Jeannette Kagame, First Lady of Rwanda, and over 600 participants.
The Rwandan First Lady officially opened the forum.
Mrs. Kagame said the role played by women in peace-building has been the cornerstone of Rwanda’s development.
She said: “The 2022 Kigali CHOGM Women’s Forum does not just occur in a country that consistently pushes for the emergence and recognition of women in leadership. It occurs in a country where rape was used barely three decades ago as a weapon of war. Today, Rwanda is ranked by the World Economic Forum as the seventh country in the world for closing the gender gap.”
Mrs. Kagame said that the world today is faced with a multitude of crises, which only serve to further widen the gender gap and deepen the economic divide, adding to the challenges women and girls are already facing.
She added that the situation has already been exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, which, among other things has increased inflation, disrupted trade and led to an increase in the cost of debt.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, used the opportunity to call for closer co-operation among the 54 member states to achieve gender equality and women empowerment.
“This Women’s Forum and this CHOGM is our opportunity to build on our Commonwealth advantage. Our similar systems of democratic governance, of common law, of common language, of compatible institutions, drive progress for which we all hunger and thirst,” Baroness Scotland said.
She saluted Rwanda as a champion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, adding that the country was a fitting host for Africa’s first-ever Commonwealth Women’s Forum.
At the CWF meeting, discussions surrounding the Economic Cost of Violence Against Women and Girls Guidelines, which utilises a new framework to determine the cost of violence for various economic and state sectors, was launched.
The 2022 Women’s Forum attracted a record number of participants from across the Commonwealth with over 600 registered. The forum continued Tuesday with panel discussions on climate change, human capital development and women and peace-building before it concluded with a special session on conquering cervical cancer.
Further, President Dr. Irfaan Ali and Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Hugh Todd are expected to arrive on Wednesday evening ahead of three days of packed agendas.
After being postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rwanda is finally hosting the meeting in Kigali from Monday, June 20 to Sunday, June 26, 2022.
Preceded by several fora, the central high-level meetings of the Heads of Government are set for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Meanwhile, building on the previous day’s momentum, the second day of the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) saw more than 350 young people working on a Youth Declaration that will be handed to Commonwealth Heads for consideration at their summit later this week.
Monday’s meeting also saw the launch of the A4HPV – a taskforce under the Commonwealth Youth Health Network focused on advocating for action toward cervical cancer elimination.
Additionally, the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) commenced on Tuesday and brought together government leaders, captains of industry and business executives, leaders of global and regional development institutions, young entrepreneurs and representatives of trade and investment organisations from across the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Business Forum is the first and largest in-person gathering for governments and businesses across the Commonwealth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing together over 1,500 delegates from Commonwealth member states.
Throughout the three days of the forum, participants will explore topics such as financing future growth, trade and regional integration, sustainability, inclusive and resilient food systems and the future of work.
There will be several sessions with discussions that shape agendas, generate insights, and share best practice knowledge on strategies businesses in the Commonwealth can apply as they build back post pandemic.
Speaking about the forum, Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board, said: “We welcome all our delegates to the Commonwealth Business Forum. The wait is over. Now is the time to discuss together the big ideas and tangible solutions that will drive the global reset after the pandemic but also shape a Commonwealth that is equitable, sustainable and resilient.”
Lord Marland, Chair of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, said: “Rwanda is a fantastic host for CBF 2022. Together, we have been able to convene experts and business leaders from every region of the Commonwealth and delegates representing a cross-section of critical Commonwealth sectors. CBF 2022 will showcase the immense opportunities across the Commonwealth to a global business audience and provide a valuable opportunity to connect.”
At least 40 Heads of State and Government from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean and the Pacific will convene to discuss this year’s theme.
At the end of the meeting, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is expected to take over from UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, as the chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years.