Human rights high on agenda for speakers of parliament

Equality for all is high on the agenda for speakers of parliament from across the Commonwealth.

A delegation of more than 30 speakers and parliamentary officials met with Secretary-General Patricia Scotland last week to hear her plans and share advice on how to best work together to achieve equality.

The Secretary-General stated her appreciation of the female speakers in attendance including Ntlhoi Motsamai, Speaker of the National Assembly of Lesotho and Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of Rwanda.

On her country’s efforts to achieve the target of 30 percent female representation in public office, Ntlhoi Motsamai said, “At first I did not understand why the target was 30 percent, when women make up half of our population. Why only 30 percent? Why not 50 percent? But despite our ongoing efforts, it has been a struggle to even reach that 30 percent.”

Equality for all was a major point of discussion, with the concerns of LGBTI people raised by several speakers of parliament. John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons in the UK, said, “human rights should be just that, human – not rights that are applicable to just some humans.”

The Secretary-General, who has made tackling violence against women and girls a priority, invited the speakers to celebrate achievements of women leaders and raise awareness.

Secretary-General Scotland said, “The 52 countries that volunteer to be part of the Commonwealth are all at different places. We need to create an enabling path for development and progress that our diverse members can follow as they choose.

“To overcome our challenges, we need to focus on examples of best practice, to consider what we need, who amongst us has a solution and how we can share that knowledge.”

The speakers of parliament outlined collaboration as being essential to all parliaments, echoing the Secretary-General’s own sentiments. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan, said of this approach, “the more we cooperate, the more we can achieve.”

Patrick Pillay, Chairperson of the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC) and Speaker of the National Assembly of the Seychelles, offered assurances that speakers would continue to devote their energies towards achieving the shared goals on return to their countries.

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