Table of Contents

  • The Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender and Development presents a vision in which the Commonwealth works towards “a world in which women and men have equal rights and opportunities in all stages of their lives to express their creativity in all fields of human endeavour, and in which women are respected and valued as equal and able partners in establishing the values of social justice, equity democracy and respect for human rights. Within such a framework of values, women and men will work in collaboration and partnership to ensure sustainable economic and social development for all nations”

  • There are proportionately fewer women in the world's parliaments than there were ten years ago. To have begun to redress the imbalance but then allow it to slip away is unforgivable.

  • Once viewed as the “discovery” of European explorations in the seventeenth century, Australia, physically one of the largest nations on earth, is now recognised as the home of an ancient Aboriginal civilisation reaching back thousands of years. Its modern history has been dominated by the process of colonisation from the West in which Britain played a central role; even today, symbolic executive power in Australia remains vested in the British monarch, represented throughout the land by the Governor-General. In real political terms, however, Australia is an independent federal democracy whose constitutional features derive not only from British, but also from US political practice.

  • Bangladesh is a young country. It achieved independence in 1971 at the conclusion of a civil war within the state of Pakistan as it was, which, from 1947 to 1971, comprised an eastern and a western portion separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory.

  • Like Australia, Canada is a “new” country superimposed on ancient foundations: for centuries it has been home to native Indian populations and its contact with Europe dates back to the Norse explorations of the eleventh century AD. In the modern period, its history was dominated by rivalry between two colonial powers - the French and the British - for control of its land and abundant natural resources. Formal resolution of this conflict came in 1763, with the expulsion of the French from continental North America at the end of the Seven Years' War.

  • Dominica is an island republic of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, located between the French islands of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. It covers 290 square miles and its population stands at 73,000.

  • Guyana, located on the northeastern coast of South America and bordered by Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela, gained its independence from Britain in 1966. Prior to European conquest and settlement, it was home to Amerindian tribes about which little is known except that their name for the land, guiana (“land of waters”), has given the country its present name.

  • India, the second most populous nation on earth and the world's largest parliamentary democracy, is a complex society that defies easy characterisation. It now has close to one billion people; its geographical variety embraces torrid plains and icy Himalayan heights; its history, reaching back deep into antiquity, has bequeathed a kaleidoscopic ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.

  • Malaysia is a Federation consisting of eleven states of peninsular Malaysia and the two states of Sarawak and Sabah located on the northern coast of the island of Kalimantan (Borneo). Commanding the Malacca Strait, one of the world's main sea-lanes, the Malay peninsula has historically been a point of contact between peoples from other parts of Asia, a fact which finds reflection in its ethnically and culturally diverse population. Today, more than half its inhabitants are Malays, speakers of an Austronesian language called Malay and predominantly Muslim.

  • Papua New Guinea, an independent member of the Commonwealth since 1975, is an island nation located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, encompassing the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and a chain of tropical islands. In ethnic terms, it is one of the world's most complex societies, embracing more than 700 distinct ethnic entities. Two large groupings predominate: Papuans, constituting some 80 per cent of the population, and Melanesians, roughly one in six of the nation's inhabitants.

  • The Republic of Seychelles, located in the western Indian Ocean some thousand miles to the east of Kenya, is an archipelago comprising roughly 115 islands. French colonists with their black slaves began arriving on the previously uninhabited islands in the late eighteenth century, and were joined later by deportees from France. In the early nineteenth century the French and the British battled for control of the strategically sensitive islands, and in 1814 the territory was formally ceded to the British.

  • An independent nation since 1931 and a Republic since 1961, South Africa has been home to one of the epic struggles of the twentieth century: the battle of its people against apartheid, a system of institutionalised racial segregation and oppression, backed by state violence, that dominated national life from 1948 till the 1990s. The long walk to freedom has brought in its wake a heightened sensitivity within the new, multiracial South Africa to all dimensions of equality and justice, including the issue of gender justice and the need to involve women actively at all levels of national politics.

  • Uganda, a landlocked, equatorially located Eastern African nation, gained its independence from British rule in 1962. For centuries prior to colonial conquest, its territory had been a meeting place of different peoples; long settled by Bantu speaking peoples, it saw the arrival of Nilo-Hamitic groups in the seventeenth century and of Arab mercantile settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. British explorers, the first Europeans to reach the area, crossed the Buganda kingdom in the 1860s.

  • This study has explored the individual experiences of 33 women, drawn from eleven Commonwealth countries, who have succeeded in the political arena. Their case histories are varied, reflecting the specificities of their particular societies and national historical experience.