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Inclusion lies at the heart of sharing our Common Wealth

Posted on 11/03/2016
By Vijay Krishnarayan
An inclusive Commonwealth theme 2016

It is often said that the Commonwealth stands for all the Ds: Development, Democracy, Diversity and Dignity. Surely if there was a global award for best alliterative multi-lateral we would do well but this year’s theme; “An Inclusive Commonwealth” encourages us to take a moment to look at how each of these powerful concepts are connected to each other. 

The theme is both timeless and timely. The argument for inclusion lies at the heart of what we mean by Common Wealth but it is particularly relevant in this the first year of the new global development agenda: an agenda that seeks to address the fact that the world’s richest 10% own 85% of global assets and the poorest 50% own 1%. 

One of the most powerful arguments in favour of a more ambitious set of development goals was the imperative to “leave no one behind.” In fact world leaders went further when they signed off on the Sustainable Development Goals. They pledged “to reach the furthest behind first” because they recognised that “the dignity of the human person is fundamental.”

Tamil school children in Sri LankaThere are different takes on the concept of inclusion. For advocates of inclusive development it means the equitable participation of all nations in a global trading system: A system that enables Less Developed Countries and all small states to enjoy fair terms, access to markets and without having to endure trade dumping. It also means financing for development options that do not lead to punitive debt and the further isolation of those economies least able to bear that burden. 

The Commonwealth recognises that inclusive development cannot be isolated from inclusive governance. If we are to arrive at an inclusive global trading system for all then all member states need to be able to enjoy equal access to global decision making processes. They need to be able to participate effectively. In turn this implies a commitment to developing the capacity of member states to negotiate and participate in a transparent and accountable rules based system.

This principle of participation for all does not only apply at the global level. If regional and national development agendas purport to embody the aspirations of people – then those people have to see themselves in those policies and plans. They need to be able to participate effectively and this needs to be supported.

Commonwealth Heads of Government recognised this when they met in Malta and “Recognised that freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of religion or belief are cornerstones of democratic societies, and important for the enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to development, and are fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Civil society organisations that also met in Malta at the Commonwealth People’s Forum saw the need for inclusivity in relation to food security, access to sustainable energy and urban planning. On Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Intersex rights they said that “Inclusive societies are stronger, more innovative and therefore more resilient.” This line resonated with delegates from all sectors, disciplines and regions. 

Strengthening women’s participation in governance in Pakistan

Civil society has an important role to play in highlighting where society as a whole is falling short on inclusion and demonstrating the ways in which these deficits can be addressed. For example women in parts of Pakistan were put off taking part in the 2013 general election by a lack of transport, pressure from political parties and the control of polling stations by armed men.

Two organisations are working together to address the issue. Peace Direct and Aware Girls are helping to promote the participation of women in electoral processes in the districts of Swabi and Marden, building on lessons learned.

By training 60 young women and providing education to at least 900 women, they are encouraging women in the conflict-affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to voice their opinion and improve their leadership skills. Citizens’ committees will address women’s rights issues and develop advocacy tools. This initiative will also improve dialogue with politicians and officials. It is expected that this will lead to improved public attitudes supporting women’s participation in electoral and political processes, as well as increased accountability among community leaders, political parties and public bodies.

Upholding the rights of young disabled people in Mozambique

In another example the Association of Young Disabled People of Mozambique (AJODEMO) is raising its members’ capacity to help local government departments and officials improve the implementation of domestic and international legislation designed to support them. This includes ensuring that the rights and entitlements of young people are better understood, respected, and enforced, with AJODEMO with support from Disability and Development Partners, taking the lead in developing and facilitating opportunities for structured engagement between community and local government stakeholders.

The government of Mozambique has shown its commitment towards improving conditions for its young disabled people by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and adopting new pieces of domestic legislation. This has helped create a conducive climate for this project, which will enhance young disabled people’s ability to engage in the community by fostering dialogue and improved relations with local government, improve their economic prospects, and reduce the stigma and discrimination they face. 

These two examples, which are both funded by the Commonwealth Foundation illustrate some of the issues that need to be addressed if we are going to take inclusion seriously. Perhaps the most important of these, is that inclusion is not a matter of addressing the needs and aspirations of society’s minorities. It is dependent on: recognising the rights that we are all presumed to have to participate equally in processes of development and democracy; and then acknowledging that those rights are not enjoyed by all – even when those being prevented from doing so form a numerical majority. 

We also have to acknowledge that there are limits to what civil society can achieve on its own when it comes to inclusion. The examples show how important it is to have an environment within which civil society can make the case for inclusion. These projects will not succeed without supportive government policies and receptive state agencies. They also require the positive reinforcement of all those who see the value of inclusion, whether they be members of parliament that want to represent their constituencies fully, businesses that want to have access to the widest pool of human resource talent or indeed civil society organisations working in the interests of the public good. Inclusion is ultimately about you, we and us – not they, them and others.