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International Women's Day and Commonwealth Week 2024
Online gender-based violence directed against women parliamentarians is a global problem that demands immediate attention. The women targeted endure significant suffering while the pervasive threat dissuades others from entering politics, which undermines democracy and negatively impacts society. The Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the High Commission of Canada and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association are convening a discussion to identify the root causes of the problem and present possible solutions.

The event will conclude with a reception from 20:00.

Opening Remarks: 

  • Professor Wendy Thomson, Vice Chancellor of the University of London 
  • Celeste Kinsey, Minister-Counsellor (Political and Public Affairs), Global Affairs Canada 

Keynote Speaker: 

  • Catherine McKenna, Former Cabinet Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Canada 

Panel Discussion - In conversation with Stephen Twigg, Secretary-General of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association: 

  • Dame Maria Miller MP, UK Member of Parliament 
  • Yasmin Qureshi MP, UK Member of Parliament 
  • Fasiha Hassan MP, Youngest MPL & Portfolio Committee Chairperson, Gauteng Provincial Legislature, South Africa 
  • Jennifer Robinson, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers 

Closing Remarks: 

  • Professor Kingsley Abbott, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Further Information

Speaker bios

Professor Wendy Thomson CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of London

Professor Thomson was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of London in 2019 following a distinguished career in government and higher education. She is recognised as an international expert in public service governance and reform, experienced leader and adviser, working closely with governments in Canada, the United Kingdom and internationally. She obtained a PhD in social administration from the University of Bristol supported by scholarships from Canadian governments. During Prime Minister Tony Blair’s second government, Professor Thomson led the Office of Public Service Reform in the Cabinet Office and served on the advisory committees of the University of Warwick’s school of local government, the University of Birmingham’s INLOGOV and several think tanks. She was awarded a CBE for her work on public service reform in the 2005 New Year Honours. In 2005, Professor Thomson was given a tenured Professorship in Social Policy at McGill University, Montreal. Alongside her role at McGill, she was appointed to lead Commissions for the governments of Ontario (Commission on Child Welfare) and Quebec (Patient-based financing of health care). International work included advising governments in Nigeria, Ghana, the UNDP and OECD missions in the Middle East. In 2014 she was received a Women of the Year award from the YWCA for her work in education. She has served on many public and private Boards of Directors and is currently on the board of London Higher, The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), and the University Advisory Board for Coursera. She also is chair of the Social Market Foundation.

Celeste Kinsey, Minister-Counsellor (Political and Public Affairs), Global Affairs Canada

Celeste Kinsey is a career public servant, currently serving as Minister-Counsellor (Political, Security and Public Affairs) at the High Commission of Canada in the UK and Northern Ireland. Prior to her current assignment, Ms. Kinsey held various positions within Global Affairs Canada, including Executive Director and Chief of Staff to the Deputy Minister (2019-2021) and Director, Global Health Strategy and Policy (2016-1019). Celeste served overseas as Counsellor at the Embassy of Canada in Ethiopia (2012-2016) and Canadian High Commission in Mozambique (2008-2012). Prior to joining the foreign service, Celeste worked for the federal government at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, in the Canadian NGO sector, and with Indigenous communities in northern Canada. Her overseas postings outside the foreign service include Swaziland (1995-1996) and Malawi (1997-1998).

Catherine McKenna, Former Cabinet Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Canada

Catherine McKenna is Canada's former Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister of Infrastructure. She is Principal of Climate and Nature Solutions, chaired the UN Secretary General’s Expert Group on Net-Zero, is a Distinguished Fellow at Columbia University and launched Women Leading on Climate. As Minister of Environment and Climate Change, she was a lead negotiator of the Paris Agreement, negotiated Canada’s climate change plan including a coal phase out and price on carbon, brought in a new Impact Assessment Act for major projects and doubled the amount of nature protected in Canada. Internationally she co-founded the Powering Past Coal Coalition and the Ministerial on Climate Action. As Minister of Infrastructure, she made historic investments in sustainable infrastructure including leveraging private sector investment through the Canada Infrastructure Bank. Prior to entering politics, Catherine practiced law in Canada and Indonesia, was a lead negotiator with the UN Peacekeeping Mission to East Timor and founded Level Justice. She is a mother to three kids and is an avid open water swimmer.

Stephen Twigg, Secretary-General of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Stephen Twigg began his term as the 8th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) from 1 August 2020. The CPA Secretary-General, Stephen Twigg is a former UK Parliamentarian, who was previously elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2005 (Enfield Southgate) and from 2010 to 2019 (Liverpool West Derby). During his parliamentary career, he held several senior positions including Chairperson of the International Development Select Committee, Minister for Schools and a range of Shadow Front Bench roles. Prior to his parliamentary career, Stephen Twigg studied at Balliol College, Oxford University, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He became the youngest President of the National Union of Students in 1990-92 and was then elected as a Local Councillor in the London Borough of Islington. Following the 2019 General Election, Stephen Twigg was instrumental in setting up the International Parliamentary Network for Education and was actively involved in parliamentary strengthening with both Global Partners Governance and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). In July 2023, he became Chair of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC).

Dame Maria Miller, UK Member of Parliament

Maria is a working mum of three, first elected to represent Basingstoke in 2005, after a 20-year career in advertising and marketing. Maria was the first Chair of the Women andEqualities scrutiny Select Committee (2015-2019), after serving in the Government as Minister for Disabled People (2010-2012), Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Minister for Women and Equalities (2012-2014). Active in CPA since 2015 Maria has held roles on the Branch Executive and Finance Committee, as well as UK Parliament CWP representative since 2017. She regularly assists with briefing incoming CPA/CWP delegations from across the Commonwealth. She was elected the new Chair of the BIMR CWP Steering Committee in March 2022. Maria was appointed the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Canada in 2022. Maria was awarded Dame Commander of The Order of The British Empire (DBE) for her Parliamentary work and Public Service in HM The Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours List 2022.

Yasmin Qureshi, UK Member of Parliament

Yasmin Qureshi is the MP for Bolton Southeast. She was elected to Parliament in 2010, during that time she has served as Shadow International Development Minister where she oversaw scrutiny of the Government’s agenda in South Asia, on Gender Equality and Good governance. She served as a shadow Justice minister overseeing the Government’s agenda on Prisons and Probation, and later Courts. More recently she served as Shadow Women and Equalities Minister. In addition to this she has been leading a parliamentary campaign for the victims of a drug called Primodos, which was given to pregnant women in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and resulted in many thousands of babies being born with deformities, as Chair of the APPG on Hormone Pregnancy Tests. Yasmin is also the co-Chair of the APPG on Pakistan and the APPG on the Maldives. Prior to becoming an MP, Yasmin was a practising barrister in criminal law for the Crown Prosecution Service and later in private practice. In the early 2000s she worked for the UN Mission in Kosovo on developing the Department of Justice as Head of the Criminal and Judicial unit.

Fasiha Hassan, Youngest MPL & Portfolio Committee Chairperson, Gauteng Provincial Legislature, South Africa

Honourable Fasiha Hassan is a youth leader in South Africa and has been elected as the youngest Member of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) in Gauteng. She has been appointed as the Chairperson of Co-operative Governance & Traditional Affairs (COGTA); and EGovernance Portfolio Committee in the Legislature, making her amongst the youngest chairpersons of a parliamentary portfolio committee in the country. Honourable Hassan previously chaired the portfolio committee on Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development. Honourable Hassan serves in Education Portfolio committee and the Oversight Committee of the Premier and the Legislature (OCPOL). Her focus as an elected public representative is to ensure that youth and womxn voices are at the centre of the agenda. Solving youth unemployment and access to education is a fundamental part of her work as an MPL in Gauteng. Currently Fasiha has also been elected as one of the Spokespersons of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League. Fasiha was also appointed to serve on the ANC Renewal Commission alongside various senior leaders within government and the party. She has also featured in various media and debating platforms representing the youth of South Africa in the fight for free, quality and decolonized education. Most notably, Fasiha Hassan is also the 11th Laureate of the prestigious international Student Peace Prize for 2019. The award is in recognition for non-violent efforts for equal access to higher education and for her leading role in the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa. As the 11th laureate, she joins the ranks of ten students and student organizations ranging from Colombia to East Timor who have previously received the prize. Hassan was elected to various leadership positions as a student representative including that of Secretary General in her university. She would go on to be elected as the Deputy Secretary General (from 2016 – 2018) of the South African Union of Students - the national student union in South Africa. And later as the Deputy President of the same structure from 2016 to June 2021 respectively. Hassan is a graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Hassan is also a recipient of Golden Key International Honors Society for excellence in academics.

Jennifer Robinson Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers Jen Robinson is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers specialising in international law, human rights, and media law. Jen has acted in key human rights cases in domestic, regional and international courts, with clients including Julian Assange and Amber Heard. She is acting for Vanuatu in the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion proceedings on states' obligations on climate change. Her book with Dr Keina Yoshida, Silenced Women, demonstrates the ways in which the law is being weaponised to silence women from speaking about their experiences of gender-based violence.

Kingsley Abbott
Director, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Kingsley Abbott is an experienced international criminal and human rights lawyer with more than 20 years experience in international non-governmental organisations, the United Nations and domestic legal practice. Previously, for nine years, he was based in Thailand where he served the International Commission of Jurists as the Director of Global Accountability and International Justice. During this time, he developed and led numerous human rights and rule of law initiatives in Asia and around the world. Prior to that, he worked as a Senior Legal Adviser at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia and as Trial Counsel in the Office of the Prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Hague. He started his career in his home country of Aotearoa New Zealand, where he mainly practised as a criminal barrister under a leading King’s Counsel.