Celebrating Commonwealth Day - Women as Agents of Change

16/03/11

Monday March 14th was Commonwealth Day. This year, the celebrations were of particular significance to Soroptimist International as the theme was 'Women - Agents of Change'. To mark Commonwealth Day and to draw attention to this theme, a Parliamentary event was held in London paying particular attention to the transformational impact of education.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago gave the opening address. Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar spoke on the big impact education has had on her life when, as a girl from the village, she resolved to 'study out of poverty'. She also spoke of the important role played by her mother in supporting her in her wish to study, despite reluctance from male members of her family.

As one of only three female heads of Government in the Commonweath ( Bangladesh and Australia are the other two) she recognised that there was still a long way to go in terms of getting women into the highest positions. But she added:

“People say ‘There’s only three women heads of government in the Commonwealth?’ But there used to be none. That change is coming and there’s no way to stop it."

High level speakers from across the Commonwealth debated on the role of government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector in bringing education to girls and women, at the event organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, London South Bank University and Soroptimist International

Soroptimist International was honoured to be leading a session on the practicalities of education in the community with a broader focus on working locally to impact globally. SI's Programme Director, Reilly Dempsey, opened the session with a brief overview of the key issues, stressing the broader impact of education. She then led a very fruitful and informative panel discussion with Ann Cotton (Executive Director, Camfed), Rebecca Munro (Communications and Advocacy Director, WAGGGS) and Alison Sutherland (Project SIerra liaison who also works for the Commonwealth in Sierra Leone). Below, Rebecca Munro and Alison Sutherland discuss a question from the audience.

Above, Reilly sums up the discussion at the close of the panel.

The main message from the panel focused on the broader benefits of education. These benefits extend beyond the individual receiving the education to her family, her community and to her nation. Ultimately, the whole world benefits from the education of women and girls!

Harriet Harman, who is currently the Shadow Secretary  for International Development, attended to launch the ‘Call to Action’.

The ‘Call to Action: Women – Agents of Change’, asks participants to call on Commonwealth governments to close the gender gap in access to education, provide women with equal access to complete secondary school, ensure all sectors of education have trained teaching and support staff, support pastoral policies, ensure education programmes in all sectors reject cultural stereotyping of women, introduce employment legislation to ensure women’s economic rewards reflect their academic achievements and abilities, to end the discrimination that holds back women at work, to ensure equality in decision-making on education, and to commit to achieving equal representation of women in Commonwealth Parliaments, Governments and inter-government agencies.

Harriet Harman said: “Who will ultimately fight for women’s rights? The women in that country’s state legislature. Who is the best chance for women to get a line to help develop a small business? The person who represents her in her legislature.”

To read and down load the Call to Action, visit http://www.cecomm.org.uk/details.php?id=106.

If you live in a Commonwealth country, you may wish to make use of the Call to Action as we move towards the next CHOGM in October. To find out which countries are in the Commonwealth, click here.

To watch a You Tube video on Commonwealth Day 2011, click here.

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