[WATCH] Newly-elected Commonwealth secretary-general admits road to full equality 'tortuous journey'

Commonwealth leaders elect Baroness Patricia Scotland as their new secretary-general

Baroness Patricia Scotland is the first woman secretary-general of the Commonwealth
Baroness Patricia Scotland is the first woman secretary-general of the Commonwealth

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Baroness Patricia Scotland has been elected as the new secretary-general of the Commonwealth, beating two other contenders for the role.

Scotland held the position of Attorney General in Britain.

"It is such an honour to being appointed to this role," she said in her first comments to journalists. She added that Antigua was also a winner as she was Antiguan from her father's side.

"I am a daughter of Africa too. I am truly a child of the Commonwealth. I hope that the 53 of us will look to create a better world for our children."

Taking a series of questions from the floor, Scotland refused to be dragged into who should succeed the Queen as leader of the Commonwealth, the choice between Prince Charles or another leader elected by the member states.

“My role as secretary-general is to listen to the 53 heads, so the decision will be theirs, not mine,” she said.

Scotland, who declared herself “incredibly proud” of her new appointment, spoke of her ambitions for the Commonwealth to push for more equality and women’s rights.

“One of the great things about the Commonwealth is that we share a great deal. We have to focus on what joins us, create social capital and ensure that the each individual is given the opportunity to contribute and participate.

“But we also have to respect sovereignty. If you work respectfully, with patience you can reach a joint position. This has to be done through through partnership with governments and third parties and push forward the economic case for human rights.”

She added that the Commonwealth had a charter that embodied the aspirations and values all aspire to.

“That charter is not a meaningless document but we can work with vigor. Sovereignty of these countries mean something. But in order to encourage them to fulfill its aspects, we have to work with them along the way.

“It will be a tortuous journey but I believe that the Commonwealth can succeed through partnership. But it needs all of us to do it. I will use every fiber in my body to fight for equality.”

This is the first time that two of the candidates were women, with the second female candidate being Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, who served two terms as Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat from 2008-2014.

The third candidate was Sir Ronald Sanders, currently Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador Extraordinary.

But Sanders’ nomination ended up in controversy after British media reported that he was named by an investigator for receiving almost $1.4 million from an alleged fraud against Antigua’s government.

The tenth of 12 children, she was born Patricia Scotland on the Caribbean island of Dominica in 1955. Her family moved to Walthamstow, east London, when she was three years old.

Baroness Scotland went to school in London and Essex and went on to study law at the University of London.

She became the first black woman to be a made a QC in 1991 before becoming the first black female government minister a decade ago.

As a lawyer she specialised in family and public law - in particular cases involving child abuse, mental health and housing.

Baroness Scotland is a member of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship and was formerly one of Her Majesty's Commissioners for Racial Equality.

In 1985 she married barrister Richard Mawhinney. She has two sons.

After co-founding a successful legal chambers, she appeared to be on course to become a High Court judge, but her talents had caught Tony Blair's eye and in 1997 her career changed when she was made a Labour peer, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, named after Asthal in Oxfordshire.

Baroness Scotland's first government job was at the Foreign Office in 1999.

She moved to the Lord Chancellor's Department two years later and to the Home Office in 2003, where she had responsibility for reducing crime, anti-social behaviour policy, youth crime, domestic violence and race equality.

In her ministerial career Baroness Scotland has been regarded as an efficient and effective operator.

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