On the 4th April 2016, in London, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC began her first day in office as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. Nominated for the post by Dominica, she is the first woman to hold the post.
To the rhythm of a steel band, the sound of a gospel choir, and the flair of Quadrille dancers, hundreds of guests welcomed the new Secretary-General at Commonwealth headquarters in Marlborough House. They included well-known figures from the world of politics, sports and broadcasting. The event was hosted by Garth Crooks, the former English footballer, and included performances by singer Heather Small of M People, tenor Franz Hepburn and actor Hugh Quarshie.
“I am determined that we are going to work together on tackling violence against women and girls, deal with the existential threat of climate change, promote trade and good governance, champion the health, well-being and human rights of our citizens, and ensure young people have the opportunities they need for the future,” said the Secretary-General in her first official address in London.
Arriving straight from a visit to the Caribbean, she was escorted into Commonwealth Headquarters by the Caribbean High Commissioners and introduced by Dominica’s acting High Commissioner to the UK, Janet Charles. The new Secretary-General shared her vision for the Commonwealth, stating “Working and acting as one people – one family – we can make a different future”.
In her speech, she described herself as “a classic child of the Commonwealth” – born in the Caribbean and brought up in London. She highlighted her journey of “firsts” – from the first black woman to join the Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom, the first woman to hold the position of UK Attorney General and the first woman Commonwealth Secretary-General. She said she had been “rather sad” at being first and looked forward to supporting new generations of female leaders.
She highlighted tackling domestic violence as one of her top priorities, a problem, she said, that is “literally stealing our futures”. She underscored that allowing women to be abused and disregarded would continue to hamper the health and wellbeing of societies.
Born in the small village of St Joseph in Dominica, she said she knew only too well about the threat of climate change. She urged members of the Commonwealth to work together and make good on commitments agreed at the global Paris Climate Conference last December. “We can show the world about building resilience and finding innovative solutions.”
Boosting Commonwealth trade and creating better opportunities for young people, who make up 60% of the Commonwealth population, she commented, would also be at the top of her agenda.
“I am confident that we can change things for the better. I want the Commonwealth to be a voice for everyone who shares our common values and hopes,” she concluded.