Helen Clark in Conversation with Keshini Navaratnam

A blog by Rita Beaumont, SIGBI Assistant Programme Director: Food Security & Healthcare

Rt Hon Helen Clark in Conversation with BBC World television news presenter, Keshini Navaratnam.

“A Round Table event was organised by The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs and took place at the Royal Over-Seas League, in St, James, London on Thursday 11th April 2019 in the packed Hall of India and Pakistan.

The Speaker was The Rt Hon Helen Clark, the 37th Prime Minister of New Zealand, in post between 1999 and 2008. Clark became the first female Head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and this year Clark became patron of the Helen Clark Foundation, a non-partisan public think tank in New Zealand, whose mission is for “a more just, sustainable and peaceful society” www.helenclark.foundation

The conversation began by exploring the Relevance of the Commonwealth in today’s political world; the key messages were:

  • The Commonwealth strength lies in its advocacy for small island states; it provides a corporate voice to support the most vulnerable member states, especially small islands, providing a vital window on the world with representation and participation;
  • Being a values-based organisation it is able to take up the issues of minority groups; however it was accepted that a tension exists in relation to lack of recognition of key aspects of Human Rights within parts of the “Commonwealth Family”; it was pointed out that mechanisms exist to suspend Commonwealth membership but actions must be balanced against taking measures in an attempt to influence inclusive politics that reflect democracy, human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law;
  • Pressure to bring about slow democratic change is the glue that bonds the Commonwealth together with common principles and law;
  • The expansion of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) programme to include forums for business leaders, young people, women, and civil society was seen to reinforce the power of the Commonwealth by being more inclusive in action.

The need to Increase the Number of Women in Leadership and Political Positions was the next topic to be explored. A stark reminder of the present position was given:

  • Women Members of Parliament globally is 23% with 22% in Commonwealth countries: the target set by the Commonwealth of 30% in 2015 has yet to be achieved;
  • Female Ministers average, 18% globally with 17% in the Commonwealth member states;
  • Currently globally 17 women are Heads of Government, only 7 of these are from Commonwealth states.

Key Message: More women challenging outdated ideals and practices needed: more women, better politics!

Issues for Women in Politics:

  • Balancing multiple responsibilities of personal commitments and becoming a politician: work-life balance / need: strong support systems;
  • Balancing raising a family and supporting extended family;
  • Need to demystify role;
  • Need to change the gatekeeper to political positions.

The third discussion area acknowledged that the Impacts of Climate Change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030. There is a close linkage between the ocean, wellbeing and prosperity of the people of the Commonwealth, and recognition of the opportunities for sustainable economic development of the ocean and coasts. Alarm was expressed at the deteriorating health of the world’s oceans, impacting every country, and posing an existential threat to many Commonwealth communities. Related issues causing the most signicant pressures include loss of biodiversity, overfishing, and plastic pollution. The Commonwealth’s strength in sharing experience and expertise is recognised as a vital role in building capacity in small and other vulnerable states. We were reminded that Heads adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter at CHOGM in 2018.

Summing up it was emphasised that if the Commonwealth is to grow it needs to be more visible and requires an influx of young leaders to give it energy; New Zealand Prime Minister Jocinda Ardern and her handling of the recent appalling attack in Christchurch was given as an example of strong leadership”.


1 comment

  1. Dessima M. Williams 4 months ago 5th May 2019

    Congratulations to Helen Clarke for championing the rights of women and girls and small island states! Thank you for the clear message on how climate change can push millions more into greater poverty — thus failing SDG achievement.

    In a world balancing great opportunities with frightening threats, Helen’s voice is needed.

    As a woman living on a small island, and as a member of Soroptimist International Grenada, I welcome and value policy recommendation and advocacy support from all, including esteemed international leaders as former Prime Minister Helen Clarke. Thank you!


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