Commonwealth committed to empowering women, girls

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) continued yesterday with Retreat Session III and Executive Session III.

At the Retreat Session, the leaders discussed efforts towards the empowerment of women in the Commonwealth. These include supporting national programmes and implementation of international instruments and agreements on women's rights.

The Heads of Government also touched on the theme of this year's Commmonwealth Day, "Women as Agents of Change", and the empowerment of women in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The Heads of Government also deliberated on efforts to promote the role of youth in the Commonwealth through providing a greater voice and more effective role in the organisation.

These include enhancing communication with youth, collecting and sharing good practices, and ensuring the voice of youth is represented in Commonwealth actions at the national and international level.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting ended with the Executive Session III (Concluding) of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. During the session, the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed to issue the "CHOGM 2011 Communique" and the "Perth Declaration on Food Security Principles".

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam left Perth, Australia yesterday afternoon.

Before His Majesty left, a doa selamat was read by Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia (Dr) Ustaz Haji Awang Abdul Aziz bin Juned, the State Mufti.

Present to bid farewell at the Perth Airport were Awg Haji Adnan bin Haji Mohd Jaafar, High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam to Australia and officials of the High Commission of Brunei Darussalam in Australia.

AFP reports: Commonwealth leaders placed renewed emphasis on tackling forced marriage as they wrapped up a three-day summit at which they committed to empowering girls and women.

In a communique pitched towards overhauling the 54-nation bloc to make it more relevant, the grouping said it would "promote the implementation of measures to tackle early and forced marriage".

The group of mostly former British colonies also said it would move to implement international instruments and agreements on women's rights.

Activists have said the forced marriage of young girls takes place on a "shocking scale" in Commonwealth countries, trapping children in a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and ill health and violating their basic human rights.

Plan International Australia, one of the world's largest children's development organisations, welcomed the Commonwealth's decision, which it said would significantly boost efforts to protect millions of girls.

"The decision to focus on ending early and forced marriage sends a strong signal to government authorities and communities across the Commonwealth that the early marriage of girls - often against their will and best interests - is no longer a practice to be tolerated," the group's Ian Wishart said.

The leaders agreed to a series of reforms they said would prevent the 54-nation bloc sliding into irrelevancy, but divisions over human rights diluted their modernisation drive.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the results of their summit as proof the institution set up 62 years ago with roots in the former British Empire was capable of adapting to the times.

"In terms of strengthening the Commonwealth, we as leaders have taken some major reform decisions," Gillard told reporters after the three-day event in the Australian city of Perth wrapped up.

"I believe we have made a major contribution to ensuring the Commonwealth is an institution that is well positioned for the future. We have set the direction for a more purposeful, relevant and valuable Commonwealth."

Leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting agreed to establish a charter of common values seen as crucial in directing the organisation that represents two billion people from vastly different stages of development.

They also gave more power for the Commonwealth to pressure member nations that are committing human rights abuses or drifting away from democracy.

Previously CHOGM's main avenue was to expel or suspend a rogue nation, a measure that only punished a country after a dramatic event rather than trying to prevent it.

And British Prime Minister David Cameron secured approval to scrap centuries-old laws barring first-born daughters or anyone married to a Roman Catholic from inheriting the British throne, which is shared by 15 other Commonwealth realms.

However, the results fell far short of "bold" reforms called for by an "Eminent Persons Group" that CHOGM itself commissioned two years ago to help it maintain relevancy.

One of the key reforms called for by the group - and brushed aside in Perth - was for an independent commissioner on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Another recommendation that failed to be adopted was for CHOGM to call for an end to homophopic laws in 41 member nations.

The chair of the Eminent Person's Group, former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had told the delegates at the start of the summit that it would be regarded as a "failure" if the reforms were not achieved.

Gillard acknowledged Sunday there had been tense moments during the summit as leaders of countries with different values sought to impose their beliefs on other delegates. - Borneo Bulletin (31st Octopber 2011)