It would be ridiculously easy to dismiss the 11th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting (W.A.M.M.) held in Apia last week as just another in a long string of talk fests.
We say “would be”, if the topics up for discussion and planning weren’t so important for all of us.
With the theme, ‘Gender equality through sustainable development in an inclusive commonwealth’, W.A.M.M. provides the opportunity for ministers, senior officials, civil society, private sector and partner agencies to discuss critical issues in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The triennial meeting was launched last week by Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa with a strong speech that spelled out her expectations for the meeting.
Participants would have been under no illusions about the urgency of finding solutions to the issues and putting them into practice.
But progress in the past on many of these issues has been disappointing to say the least.
Some of the solutions offered at previous meetings have proven unsuccessful and have stalled altogether or moved forward far too slowly for the expectations of many women.
In a pointed reminder to participants about the urgency of their deliberations and action to follow, Fiame said, “I hope we have all dispelled the myth that gender equity will come right with time.”
And further, “Eleven out of 53 Commonwealth members’ countries achieved 30% for women in political leadership.
“This is some progress given that only two countries were at this level in 2004, however it is not happening fast enough for half of humanity who continue to be second class citizens.”
At a media conference after the close of the conference, Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland said the meeting had been productive.
And while the agenda may have seemed too far reaching at times, there was step by step progress when it was generally accepted that financial viability paid a major role in decisions that women could make.
“If they don’t have the money to support their health and children, don’t have the opportunity to be self efficient, or don’t have the means to do find work or opportunities to find employment and gain property rights then the choices that they have whether they stay in an abusive relationship or leave, becomes more narrow,” said the Secretary General.
There was also a chance to share strategies and successes.
Rwanda, which has had a difficult and horrific past in terms of wars and violence, was held up as an example to other countries with their record numbers of 64% of women in parliament.
It was also revealed that even creating legislation, women having equal qualifications and living in a developed country was still not a guarantee that women would be on an equal footing with men.
“...in many of our countries now we have more women coming out of university with first class degrees than perhaps men.
“[But] when you look at progression, men are still doing much better than women, so education and opportunity is clearly not the only thing we need to address.”
How very true and while the Ms Scotland was speaking generally, she may not have realised how accurately she was describing the situation in Samoa.
Her final words were a message of hope.
“We are looking at how we can pool information about what works to help members of the Commonwealth to leap frog over those impediments and to get us to be where we would most like to be.”
“[And] in due course we will be publishing a communiqué from the meeting which sets up the path way that ministers have committed to take in order to address these issues and trade the whole opportunity to make a more gender equal world for us all.”
We look forward to that.