Reflections on Advocacy Week

Feb 16, 2024

Alistair Stewart, Head of The Commonwealth Equality Network Secretariat

From Monday 29 January to Thursday 1 February the Management Committee of the Commonwealth Equality Network convened in London, England for their annual Advocacy Week. This was the first Advocacy Week which I’ve been involved in since taking up the role of Head of TCEN Secretariat and it was a very productive and very packed week!

Day 1

With members having arrived from all corners of the world, there were undoubtedly a few folks still jetlagged as we got together on Monday morning. Nonetheless, the Management Committee were right into the business of the day, conducting a review of 2023. After these discussions final amendments are now being made to our Annual Report from last year which will be shared with members soon. 

Review concluded, we then moved on to forward planning, with Management Committee members examining and approving the Network’s ambitious work plan for 2024. Highlights of the year will be the Global Convening in the summer and our advocacy in the run-up to and during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa. 

The day concluded with discussions about resource mobilisation and our membership growth strategy. After a pause in admitting new members to TCEN, the Management Committee has now agreed a process to review outstanding membership applications and the Secretariat will work with them to grow TCEN’s membership over the coming months. 

Day 2

The morning started with an in-depth discussion of plans for TCEN’s AGM and our Global Convening, to take place in June. Committee members received a report from the Global Convening working group about proposals received from several members to host the AGM and an in-depth review of these proposals took place. 

After much discussion and careful consideration of safety and security, as well as opportunities for advocacy, the Management Committee voted to host the AGM and Global Convening in the UK. The event, which will be TCEN first all-member meeting since 2019, will take place from 10 to 13 June 2024. Full details of registration will be shared with members soon. 

The Committee also had a detailed discussion of the agenda for the Global Convening, with an emphasis on offering members opportunities for learning, connection and self-care alongside planning and advocacy work.

The afternoon saw Management Committee members travel across London to Marlborough House, home of the Commonwealth Secretariat. There they met with representatives from the Human Rights and Gender Equality units of the Secretariat to discuss plans for CHOGM 2024 and ways in which TCEN can actively engage and participate in the run-up to and during the meeting. 

Day 3

Wednesday commenced with a workshop facilitated by Kaleidoscope Trust’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs to decide TCEN’s priority policy areas for 2024. These themes will also inform the development of TCEN’s CHOGM Shadow Report, which will explore progress made across the Commonwealth in upholding LGBTI+ rights. 

This was a fascinating session with all Management Committee members chipping in with thoughts and their areas of expertise. It concluded with the following subject areas being agreed as policy priorities for TCEN in the run-up to CHOGM:

  • Climate change
  • Health justice
  • Governance, human rights and the rule of law
  • Funding

Wednesday afternoon was taken up with high-level advocacy. After lunch the Management Committee travelled to London’s Trafalgar Square to attend a diplomatic round-table at Canada House, the home of the Canadian Embassy. 

The meeting, coordinated by Kaleidoscope Trust, brought together representatives from the Governments of Canada, Cyprus, Malta, New Zealand and the United Kingdom with our Management Committee to discuss current areas of concern for LGBTI+ rights and ways in which they could be advanced through the Commonwealth. This was an interesting and insightful gathering and really valuable to have as we all begin to plan for CHOGM. 

There was little time for Management Committee to catch their breath as following the round table they took a short walk down Whitehall to the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to meet with members of their LGBT+ rights and Gender and Equalities teams. 

Day 4

After two days with high-level external engagements, we reconvened solely in the meeting room for our final day. The Management Committee discussed and agreed TCEN’s strategy for CHOGM and the Secretariat will soon carry out a scoping visit to Samoa to help to plan for October’s meeting. 

The final item on our agenda was a very important one: regional engagement. The Management Committee received updates from the representatives for Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific (the post of representative for Europe is currently unfilled). The significant demands that are placed on the shoulders of the Regional Representatives was acknowledged and discussed and the Management Committee agreed to review options to ameliorate this.

The meeting concluded with the Committee reviewing issues which had been raised during discussions earlier in the week, including plans for further regional convenings following our successful Pacific-region convening held last year. 

All in all, Advocacy Week was exhilarating, energising and exhausting – and that’s just for someone watching on! It was great to meet all our Management Committee members and to see them working so creatively to plan what will be a really important year for TCEN. I look forward to meeting many more members at the Global Convening in June!