Women are agents of change: Queen Elizabeth

Women are agents of change: Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II sitting at a desk in Buckingham Palace, central London, after recording her Commonwealth Day address that is broadcast across the world. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Queen Elizabeth II sitting at a desk in Buckingham Palace, central London, after recording her Commonwealth Day address that is broadcast across the world. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

The importance of women as “agents of change” was celebrated in the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message yesterday.

In the Monarch’s annual address to the “family of nations”, she highlighted how women play vital roles under many guises – from doctors and artists to entrepreneurs and teachers.

Gender inequalities are still found across the globe and the sovereign called on individuals and groups to think of practical ways to provide support to girls and women so they could lead fuller lives.

International Women’s Day, held last Tuesday, celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.

The Monarch highlighted the milestone and said the event had grown from humble beginnings to become a global way of publicly recognising mothers and daughters.

The Queen, whose address mirrored the theme of Commonwealth Day, said: “This year, the Commonwealth celebrates the important role that women already play in every walk of life and in every Commonwealth country – from the richest to the poorest areas, across continents and oceans, from villages to places of international debate, in every culture and faith – recognising that women are “agents of change” in so many ways: As mothers and sisters, teachers and doctors, artists and craftspeople, smallholders and entrepreneurs, and as leaders of our societies, unleashing the potential of those around them.”

The monarch, who is head of the Commonwealth, added: “And also this year, the Commonwealth reflects on what more could be achieved if women were able to play an even larger role.

“For example, I am encouraged that last year the Commonwealth launched a global effort to train and support half a million more midwives worldwide.”

The monarch’s pre-recorded words formed part of the annual Observance of Commonwealth Day service, held yesterday afternoon at Westminster Abbey and attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and a host of dignitaries.

Among the speakers were the singer and campaigner Annie Lennox and Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo who will draw attention to the achievements of women across the Commonwealth and highlighting how much remains to be done to achieve true equality.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read a poem commissioned for the service called A Commonwealth Blessing for Girls.

The Observance, Britain’s largest annual inter-faith gathering, was attended by the Commonwealth Chairperson-in-office, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and more than 1,000 school children.

Concluding her address, the Queen urged the Commonwealth to “...give a thought to the practical ways in which we, as individuals or as groups, can provide support to girls and women – so that everyone can have a chance of a fuller and more rewarding life, wherever they happen to be born”.

Commonwealth Day will also see the launch of an ambitious project to build a unique digital legacy into the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The Commonwealth Jubilee Time Capsule will see people from across the Commonwealth contribute their stories and images from the 60 years of the Queen’s reign.

The best entries – one for each of the 21,915 days of the past six decades – will be sealed into the capsule and given as a gift to the monarch next year.

Stories and images can be submitted to the website: www.jubileetimecapsule.org.


Commonwealth Day is an opportunity to promote understanding on global issues, international cooperation and the work of the Commonwealth’s organisations, which aim to improve the lives of its citizens.

Matching the evolution of the modern Commonwealth, Commonwealth Day as we know it began as the Empire Day Movement at the end of the late 19th century.

The idea of a designated day each year to celebrate the Empire was first put forward in 1894 by the Canadian branch of the Royal Colonial Institute (now the Royal Commonwealth Society).

Clementina Fessenden, the wife of Ontario Minister of Educa­tion, Senator George W. Ross, promoted a scheme for children to commemorate the Empire on one day each year.

The proposal to turn this into a national event was put to a meeting of the Canadian Education Association in 1898 and passed unanimously.

The news of the observance of an Empire day by Canadian schoolchildren stirred the emotions of many others around the Empire, including the British Leagues of Australia, who, in a letter to The Times in 1903, not only backed the idea, but suggested that Empire day be celebrated by everyone, not only school children.

In the UK, The Earl of Meath led a self-financed one man campaign for Empire day to be celebrated throughout the Empire.

His work was successful, and, during the World War , official recognition was given to Empire day in Britain.

Its first national observance took place on May 24, 1916, when over 70,000 schools and institutions such as the Stock Exchange saluted the flag and sang the national anthem.

In January 1921, feeling that he had taken the Empire Day Movement as far as he could, Mr Meath formally invited the Royal Colonial Institute to assume control of it.

Mr Meath became the movement’s first President from 1927 to 1929, after which he was replaced by Admiral Earl Jellicoe.

April 1949 heralded the birth of the modern Commonwealth when Heads of State from Australia, Britain, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs met in London to decide what could be salvaged from the wreckage of Empire. As a result, in 1958 Empire Day became known as British Commonwealth Day, before finally becoming Commonwealth Day in 1966.

That same year, the date of Commonwealth Day in the United Kingdom was temporarily set as 10th June, to coincide with the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.

During the 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, the Canadian delegation proposed that a “simultaneously observed Commonwealth Day would focus attention upon the association and its contribution to a harmonious global environment”.

Today, Commonwealth Day is celebrated every year throughout the Commonwealth in variety of ways. The centre piece of the celebrations is the Commonwealth Day Observance in London. The multi-faith service, which takes place at Westminster Abbey, is attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, the representatives of Commonwealth countries in London, the Commonwealth High Commissioners and 1,000 school-aged children. (Source: Commonwealth Secretariat)

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