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Tag: Financial inclusion

Power to the People: the Commonwealth Foundation at CHOGM 2022

After two years of delay and postponement, of anticipation and frustration, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGM) finally took place in Kigali in late June.

For the Foundation, this was the culmination of years of preparation and planning, most especially for the People’s Forum—the largest gathering of civil society in the Commonwealth system that has been a fixture of the CHOGM calendar for almost two decades.

The Foundation also took the lead in convening a half-day of roundtable discussions between Foreign Ministers and members of Commonwealth civil society. An outcome video of the Forum, which was broadcast at the official CHOGM Foreign Ministers Meeting, and also played at the Roundtable itself, can be accessed here.

‘What role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?’

The People’s Forum 2022: Our Health, Our Planet, Our Future

The People’s Forum 2022 set itself the ambitious task of asking—and trying to answer—the biggest and most important questions of our age: how do we harness the best of humanity—the forces of love, compassion, equality and justice­—to advance our common future and protect our planet? How do we work together to build or re-fashion our institutions so that they support a world that leaves no one behind? And what role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?

Along with our partners at the Rwanda Governance Board, the Foundation took advantage of the two-year delay to shape a strong and streamlined programme that focused on what is front and centre for so many people of the Commonwealth: health, climate and freedom of expression. The Critical Conversations online event series, launched by the Foundation in 2020 after the first CHOGM postponement, proved to be a gamechanger: giving us experience and confidence in new formats and approaches and expanding our network of activists and leaders across all Commonwealth regions.

‘In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC?’

In relation to developing the Forum sessions on climate for example, the Foundation was able to draw on several different events  organised as part of the Critical Conversations series, including one on small states and climate justice held in September 2021 just before COP26, and another on the difficult issue of reparations for climate damage, held in February of this year. Our main climate session at the People’s Forum was explicitly practical: looking ahead to COP27 in November and to what the Commonwealth could and should be doing to advance the interests of those most affected.  Leaders and advocates from the Commonwealth’s small island developing states left the Forum in no doubt about the urgency of the challenge and the moral duty of the Commonwealth, its member countries and its institutions, to demonstrate genuine solidarity through concrete commitments.

The Forum’s sessions on health also benefited from multiple Critical Conversations events the Foundation has convened since early 2020 which shed a bright light on the parlous state of so many national health systems and the apparent incapacity of international systems and institutions (including, disappointingly, the Commonwealth itself) to deliver practical support. At the Forum, the issue of universal health coverage (UHC)—the guarantee that people can access quality health services without facing financial hardship—was front and centre, with panellists interrogating the role that civil society might play in pushing for UHC and the strong, resilient, and equitable health systems that must be at its heart.

Any useful discussion around health and climate must address the thorny question of finance: how do we get the money needed to fund desperately overdue measures aimed at protecting countries and communities from the worst effects of climate change? In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC? In the case of climate, Forum participants strongly took up the cause of the Commonwealth’s smaller and more vulnerable Member States, for whom the loss and damage caused by climate change is presenting unique—and in some cases existential—challenges. Across both issues participants were united in their conviction that the Commonwealth has a unique role to play in bringing together those who hold the power to deliver support, relieve debt burdens, and provide restitution. A failure to take up that role with determination would be, in the eyes of Commonwealth civil society, a clear rejection of the very ideas that the Commonwealth stands for.

‘a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens’

The Commonwealth Charter affirms that freedom of expression—including media freedom—is essential to the flourishing of democratic societies and a basic condition for development. Sadly, this is an area where too many Commonwealth countries are slipping behind. Building on a previous Critical Conversations event, the Forum engaged in a vigorous, at times tense discussion of freedom of expression: why does it matter and how can it be protected? What can the Commonwealth, its member states and institutions, do to support and advance free and responsible media? There was clear agreement that no country can afford to be complacent: direct threats to journalists and freedom of expression are real and growing. Civil society has an important role to play in championing the proposed Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression that could help shore up freedom of expression and break the culture of silence that provides cover for its steady erosion.

The final session of the Forum, A Commonwealth for All’, set itself the ambitious goal of provoking deep discussion and personal reflection about where we are now, and how the Commonwealth—its Member States, its institutions, and its people—can help inspire real and meaningful change. It was aimed at all those who care about the Commonwealth; those who have a perspective on its past; and those who have a stake in its future. The Forum Chair participated in the event alongside the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Both were asked to comment on a provocative video of highlights from the Foundation’s three-part mini-series on the future of the Commonwealth. The passion and conviction of speakers at this final event—and of the many participants who contributed to the discussion—left no doubt that a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens. The ten-year anniversary of the Charter, which will be commemorated next year, was singled out by many as an opportunity to galvanise action for a reinvigorated Commonwealth.

Weaving together all Forum sessions was the idea of participatory governance: the idea that the involvement of people in their governance is critical to democracy and democratic legitimacy; the idea that citizens have a central role to play in helping to shape policies and decisions that affect their lives. Forum participants acknowledged that participatory governance is a work in progress right across the Commonwealth. We can learn from examples of innovation that have delivered tangible results. But we must be brave in pushing for more meaningful involvement of citizens across every area of public life.

‘How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?’

Civil Society and the Foreign Ministers’ Roundtable

The roundtable between participants of the People’s Forum and Foreign Ministers is now an established fixture on the CHOGM calendar: a powerful embodiment of the Commonwealth identity as an organisation of people—and not just of states. For the Foundation, it is an unambiguous exercise in participatory governance—the unifying thread of the People’s Forum.

The 2022 Roundtable was widely proclaimed to be a huge success with the largest-ever number of Ministers in attendance, including a substantial contingent of Foreign Ministers and excellent representation from Commonwealth civil society and accredited organisations. The event was Chaired by the Rwanda Foreign Minister and moderated by me. The seating arrangement, large round tables where government and civil society sat together, and the moderator’s insistence that each take turns in contributing, guaranteed a lively and at times passionate debate. Among the wide range of matters discussed, gender equality and freedom of expression stood out as issues that everyone in the room—government and civil society alike—cared deeply about.

Towards the Future

On the current schedule, we now have less than two years to go until CHOGM 2024. While our future is uncertain, we must brace ourselves for the likelihood that many of the challenges discussed in Kigali will be unresolved. How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?

The CHOGM communique—which sets out a bold and ambitious plan of action—should be front and centre. However, many participants in the Forum pointed out the danger of the Communique becoming irrelevant unless Member States commit to measuring their actions against the goals they have set before reporting to CHOGM 2024. Our analysis of the sentiment coming out from the Forum indicates that progress on climate could be usefully measured by the practical steps that Commonwealth countries and institutions take to protect small island developing countries. Progress on freedom of expression is even easier to measure: the Commonwealth must take the final step to adopt a robust set of principles on media freedom that comply with current international human rights standards and put in place mechanisms to monitor implementation. Progress on health requires concerted action to break the debt deadlock that is strangling efforts to deliver universal health care in so many of the Commonwealth’s low and middle-income countries.

So much more could and should be done. But we must start somewhere if the Commonwealth is to hold its head high. Let us decide to hold ourselves—and each other—to account. The people of the Commonwealth deserve no less.

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Johannesburg waste pickers organise to defend their livelihoods

Four months ago, WIEGO’s project with the Commonwealth Foundation Waste integration South Africa (WISA) took an unplanned turn as Johannesburg’s waste-pickers were faced with a major challenge to their livelihood.

The city’s official waste management service provider, Pikitup, signed contracts with private recycling companies to expand Pikitup’s Separation at Source programme.  Separation at Source diverts recyclable waste away from landfills and encourages residents to separate their waste at home. In this way, according to Pikitup, recyclables remain clean and can be resold more easily.  Effectively, however, this would exclude waste-pickers from the recycling service they have provided for decades at no cost to the city and negatively affect the income that they earn from selling recyclable material.

WIEGO has been working with the waste-pickers of Johannesburg who collect, sort, separate and recycle the City’s waste from the main landfills as well as from the street sides.  There are 6,000 to 10,000 people in Johannesburg who depend on waste-picking work.  Unemployment in South Africa has reached a record 27.7 percent, so excluding wastepickers will create additional hardship.  By giving recycling contracts to private companies, the city is opting for a private system, when a less costly, more socially responsible and environmentally–friendly solid waste management programme, including waste-pickers, is possible.

Listen to a radio interview with waste picker representatives, Eva Mokoena and Steven Leeuw from Johannesburg about the  impact of  this troubling development.

Aware of the potential introduction of the Separation at Source programme, WIEGO and waste-pickers have been asking Pikitup and the City to disclose and discuss the contracts since September last year, but to no avail.  As a result, an Interim Johannesburg Reclaimers Committee (IJRC) was set up and in July waste pickers from seven regions of the City marched to protest outside Pikitup’s offices.  Eva Mokoena from the IJRC presented a Memorandum of Demands to the Managing Director of Pikitup on behalf of the Committee.  See a video of the protest on Facebook.

As a result of the campaign, Pikitup put a halt to signing any new contracts and acknowledged wastepickers as principle stakeholders in Johannesburg’s waste economy. Pikitup says that it is requiring the companies to include reclaimers, but it is leaving it up to companies that have no experience in integrating them to figure out how to do this and have not consulted with wastepickers on how they should be included. However, dialogue has now been opened up between Pikitup, the City of Joburg and the wastepickers, which is very much welcomed.

For waste pickers, the four key pillars of integration are: recognition as workers providing public and environmental services for which they should be paid; inclusion in the current and future solid waste management system; consultation on all decisions affecting their livelihoods; and, all of the above to begin with the registration of all waste pickers in a centralised database to ensure that the integration process is well planned, fair, transparent and able to be properly monitored. 

Negotiations to develop a framework of how the integration process will be implemented have been underway for the past three months.

See the WIEGO site for further information.

Vanessa Pillay is the WIEGO Organisation and Representation Programme Officer, Johannesburg


Breaking circles through youth employment

Irene Garoës is a feminist youth activist and a member the The Southern African Alliance for Youth Employment (SAAYE) working group, representing young women, LGBTI issues and youth-led civil society in Namibia. SAAYE, an advocacy network, was formally established in February 2016 with support from the Commonwealth Foundation. SAAYE’s vision is a Southern Africa where young people have access to gainful and productive employment that enables them and their communities to be lifted out of poverty. 

As a young black lesbian woman living in a developing country, the challenges one faces are interlinked. As a young women growing up in a society that is rooted in religious and traditional believes, my voice is often silenced. Due to the apartheid element in the history of Namibia, being black can also put you in an economically disadvantageous position. I am lucky enough to grow up in a family where education for girls is encouraged but the issue is affordability. If you cannot afford quality education, you do not have access to a good paying job which in turn means you cannot afford access to health, education and good housing. Not only for yourself but for your family members. And the circle keeps going. Likewise if you are a young entrepreneur, you cannot access finances because you don’t have collateral even if you have the skills to start a business. That is why access to information is such an important aspect of living in this world for me, especially for young women who don’t know about their basic human rights or how to empower themselves and others, economically or otherwise.

“If you cannot afford quality education, you do not have access to a good paying job which in turn means you cannot afford access to health, education and good housing.”

If one takes time to listen to what’s happening in other African countries you get the sense that Namibia is in a better situation. It often is. But this view does not account for the fact that 39.2% of youth who can work are still unemployed. The women’s movement in Namibia has done a lot, evident today in the fact that 47% of parliament is female However, during the liberation struggle women in general suffered from torture, imprisonment, rape, social and economic hardship as their rights did not matter compared to the common good of the people – which was to fight for the independence of the country first. This and other factors such as religion and cultural practices has translated into a post-independent Namibia where women remain marginalised.

“How can you bring about change if your approach is not gender sensitive or gendered?”

It is therefore important that any struggle that we as young people develop and get involved with today is informed and shaped through gender lenses. Women make up more than half of our population and yet they are the ones that are most disadvantaged, so how can you bring about change if your approach is not gender sensitive or gendered? These are exciting times, young people of Africa are rising and demanding spaces in political and economic spheres, the time to rise and act is now, for the future of our continent and the world. Access to information is on the agenda, youth issues are on the agenda, women’s issues are on the agenda. And SAAYE is here to drive that. We need to be conscious of what is happening around us, develop those around us, and march on!

About Women’s Leadership Centre
Established in Windhoek in 2004, the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) is a Namibian-based feminist organisation that envisions a society in which all women actively engage in shaping the politics, practices and values of both public and private spaces. The WLC facilitates the voice and expression of Namibian women through information sharing, education, research, writing, photography, and the publishing of critical feminist texts that we distribute within Namibian society.