The Countess of Wessex’s speech at the Commonwealth Day Reception at the Joint Office of the Commonwealth

Published 12 March 2019

Thank you Lord Ahmad. Your Excellency, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen...

It is an enormous pleasure to join you here this evening to celebrate Commonwealth Day.

As you all know, the Commonwealth is something that is close to the hearts of all members of the Royal Family. We take huge pride in being a part of this incredible family of nations headed by Her Majesty The Queen, who has been stalwart in her leadership, taking a close personal interest for many years and instilling the whole family with the same respect and interest she has shown throughout her reign. 

Therefore I am delighted to be with you to celebrate such a special day.

I am also pleased to have this opportunity to tell you that last Friday, on International Women's Day, I announced that I am committing myself to doing what I can to champion and support Women, Peace and Security and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. I hope that I will be able to help promote the role of women in peace processes, those working at a local level building peace and survivors of sexual violence in conflict, including children born of wartime rape.

These issues will form a central pillar of my work in the coming months and years and will enable me to work with you to increase efforts across the Commonwealth and beyond to implement the Women Peace and Security agenda.

Twelve members of the Commonwealth currently have National Action Plans on Women Peace and Security committing them to implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and associated resolutions.

My hope is that those without National Action Plans are also delivering on Women, Peace and Security, maximising the huge wealth of expertise on resolving conflict, countering violent extremism and armed violence, and building peace right among women and men across the Commonwealth. And, while there is so much that still needs to be done, we need all the support and help we can get.

That is why the UK invested £1.6m to support the network of Women Mediators across the Commonwealth, which was announced at CHOGM last April. This network supports peer-to-peer learning for women peacebuilders in Commonwealth countries.

It provides an opportunity to showcase the female talent that already exists, supporting women to build their capacity through training and mentoring schemes, to secure mediation roles internationally and build local peace.

Implemented by Conciliation Resources, an international organisation committed to stopping violent conflict and creating more peaceful societies, the network has grown from 5 members last year to more than 30 today.

We are extremely fortunate to have one of the members speaking here this evening.  Visaka Dharmadasa from Sri Lanka and founder and Chair of the Association of War Affected Women. For anyone who does not know her story, she is an extraordinary woman and we are so privileged that she is with us tonight.

I very much hope that through this network, and the other regional networks that have been established, such as 

FemWise, we can collectively support greater inclusion of women in peace processes in some of the worst war-torn countries in the world; reflecting the fact that women make up at least 50% of the global population and that their needs, concerns and priorities must be taken into consideration in peace agreements.

Their inclusion as mediators, negotiators, technical experts, will contribute to longer lasting peace agreements and more sustainable peace, security and prosperity.

As someone who believes firmly in equality for men and women I feel strongly that we must do all we can to advance this agenda together. And as we look towards the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in October 2020, while we celebrate the efforts and bravery of so many so far, we must remind ourselves of the mountains yet to climb, the voices yet to be heard and the shattered lives yet to be re-built. I look forward to working with you to truly deliver the Women, Peace and Security agenda.  Thank you.