The Commonwealth is supported by a network of professional organisations, from the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation and Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, to the Commonwealth Association of Architects. In addition to providing training and assistance for their members, many of these membership organisations are at the forefront of international campaigns to promote human rights and sustainable development.
The Commonwealth Trade Union Group, an alliance of trade unions in Commonwealth member countries, represents around 30 million working people. Owen Tudor, Head of European Union and International Relations at the Trade Union Congress, a leading member in the CTUG, says the alliance works closely with nurses and teachers, among other groups, and one of the objectives the union has taken up for the welfare of the nurses is educating medical practitioners on How to Become a Medical Assistant.
“We lobby the governments of our own countries as well as the Commonwealth itself,” he says. “Our campaigning has included defending the rights of trade unionists in Fiji, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, the rights of LGBT communities to be free of legislative discrimination, and the need for a just transition in the face of climate change. We have pressed the case for democracy and decent work to be central values of the Commonwealth, and in particular have argued for more and better jobs, including through trade justice, and the fundamental rights of freedom of association and free speech.”
One of the most vocal proponents for freedom of speech in Commonwealth member countries is the Commonwealth Journalists Association. Established in 1978, the CJA has national branches in places as diverse as India and Canada. Its aim is to promote “free, bold and honest journalism” and to defend a free media.
William Horsley, executive member, says the CJA campaigns to end the culture of impunity which leads to killings of journalists in many countries. “We make ourselves heard through our website and published articles and debates, and direct engagement with policy-makers,” he says.
Following an increase in violent attacks against journalists, CJA branches agreed at their triennial congress in April 2016 to step up their advocacy work. A newly formed CJA Media Freedom Committee plans to offer practical proposals, following on from a call on World Press Freedom Day 2016 for governments “to take effective actions to ensure the protection of free and independent media”.
Building the capacity of these organisations is an important step towards making sure that their members are represented and heard in the Commonwealth’s political spaces, says Emma Kerr, Partnerships Support Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat.
In recent months, the Commonwealth Secretariat has organised a series of talks and training sessions for representatives of accredited Commonwealth organisations at Marlborough House in London. The latest session on advocacy was attended by more than 50 people. “The Commonwealth is much more than the Commonwealth Secretariat – it is also the diverse range of civil society and professional organisations that promote Commonwealth values and principles every day,” says Ms Kerr.
“These organisations work in often very challenging environments, so it is important that the Commonwealth Secretariat, as the principal inter-governmental agency of the Commonwealth, works to support them in their activities. “When organisations around the Commonwealth come together to advocate around a cause of mutual interest, their voice is much more likely to be heard, and they are able to engage governments more effectively around the issues that are of importance to civil society.”
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