The Countess of Wessex began a two-day visit to Kenya on Thursday to attend the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in Nairobi.
Per the Commonwealth’s official website, the purpose of the meeting is to “turn the words and aspirations expressed by leaders at last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting into more leadership positions for women in private and public sectors; more political engagement at all levels; more economic and entrepreneurial opportunities, and more strides towards creating a world where gender equality is truly a reality.”
Sophie gave a speech, saying:
“Gender equality is a fundamental right, but it is not yet the reality for many. Changing this is the best chance we have in meeting some of the most pressing challenges of our time – from financial and economic crisis, lack of healthcare, climate change, to violence against women and escalating conflicts. Women are not only more affected by these problems, but also provide some of the solutions and leadership to solve them; it is imperative that women are included in addressing these issues.
“As a passionate advocate of the Commonwealth, I believe that this great family of nations has a vital role to play in leading the world on gender equality issues. Together we need to have an increased focus on ending gender inequality and discrimination, and an increased focus on building environments that enable women’s political participation and economic empowerment. Only by ensuring the sustained rights of women and girls will we see justice and inclusion and a transformed future.”
The UK in Kenya Twitter account posted about Sophie’s visit, stating that in addition to attending the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting, she would also focus on engagements pertaining to “gender equality, preventing sexual violence in conflict, and girls’ education.”
Sophie paid a visit to RefuSHE, a charity organisation that supports women refugees in Kenya who have fled conflict areas in neighbouring countries to “learn, grow and become leaders in their own right,” per its official website.
Sophie saw how RefuSHE’s Girls Empowerment Programme has taught the women and girls “textile skills, from hand and machine stitching to tie-dye, helping them to earn an independent income,” per the Royal Family Twitter account.
Sophie was able to tour the facilities and view some of their work on display. Following her visit, RefuSHE tweeted their thanks to the Countess: “Our girls had a wonderful time sharing their stories, handmade designs, and traditional dancing with The Countess of Sussex today!”
The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting continues tomorrow under the theme of ‘From Commitment to Action: Accelerating Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Development.’
Sophie said about sustainability that, in order “to truly achieve sustainable peace and security, it is imperative that women’s voices are heard when peace is being negotiated. It is so encouraging to hear about the positive impact of initiatives such as the network of Women Mediators across the Commonwealth and FEMWISE, in helping to build the capacity and confidence of women mediators and to champion their role in building peace.”
Sophie concluded her speech at the meeting by saying that she finds it “an honour to be a part of this collective effort and I will continue to support and champion your work in tackling gender inequality across the Commonwealth. This will not only secure a more equal platform on which women and girls can build but deliver an empowered – and ultimately brighter – future for the women of our Commonwealth family.”
The second day of her Kenyan visit will be busy, as she attends the “launch of the next Platform for Girls’ Education policy paper on gender-responsive education sector planning, encouraging states to adopt a whole system approach to advancing gender equality in and through education.”
The Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting takes place every three years, and has since 1985, as a meeting for “ministers, senior officials, civil society, private sector and partner agencies to explore and agree on workable strategies and solutions to gender disparities.”
Sophie’s full speech can be found here.