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Ministers Reference Book for the 10th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting

Dhaka, Bangladesh 17–19 June 2013 

Foreword from the Commonwealth Secretary-General

Equal access to resources and opportunities for girls and for women – especially in education, health, employment, justice, and delivery of public services – must be achieved if we are to make progress towards our Commonwealth goal of achieving full and equitable participation for all through our three D’s of democracy, development and respect for diversity.

The 10th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (10WAMM) takes place in Dhaka just over six months after the adoption of the new Charter of the Commonwealth by our Heads of Government. Under the heading of ‘Gender Equality’ the Charter says:

“We recognise that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development.”

Whether at community, national or global level, women of all ages, and particularly girls and young women, need to know that society offers them equal scope to reach their full potential. This publication includes valuable insights, drawn from a range of Commonwealth perspectives, as to how that can be achieved by removing cultural, institutional or economic impediments that prevent full participation in the opportunities life offers.

The theme for 10WAMM is ‘Women’s Leadership for Enterprise’ and is closely related to our Commonwealth theme for 2013, ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’. Innovation, application and motivation – enterprise in its widest sense – are fundamental to social, political, and economic progress. They build resilience and inclusive societies sharing prosperity equitably.

Women’s economic empowerment is linked closely to the realisation of women’s rights in social and political realms and the attainment of gender equality. Women account for a significant proportion of small and medium enterprises worldwide. And yet high percentages of women are still “unbanked” and receive a low proportion of credit. Under-representation of women in executive and directorate levels continues to affect attitudes and decision-making.

That is why the Commonwealth sees support for women-led and women-owned enterprises as a priority. Partnerships between commercial banks and initiatives to promote equitable access to financing can shift the profile of business development and employment creation in favour of women, overcoming deep-seated institutional neglect of half the population and advancing the distinctively vibrant and innovative contribution to economic activity and social development it can make.

The Commonwealth commitment to mainstreaming equality for women and girls means that in planning and in practical programmes of action our work on gender equality is not compartmentalised. Political leadership cannot be seen in isolation from progress towards equal participation by women in economic, professional and social life. Progress made and the actions we take in all these spheres are inextricably bound together.

Empowering women is crucial in making progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and will continue to be vital as we move forward. Through our submissions to the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, collective Commonwealth wisdom is already contributing to the emerging global development framework. Our Commonwealth programmes and our partnerships aim to support women in practical ways that enhance prospects for social, economic, and political transformation. No collective goal can be greater for our global community. 

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