Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma
7 March 2011
Kamalesh Sharma issues statement on the centenary of International Women's Day
On the centenary of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2011, our Commonwealth Day 2011 theme ‘Women as Agents of Change’, has particular resonance. 100 years ago, on 19 March, International Women's Day was observed for the very first time. More than one million women and men attended rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.
Reflecting on history is valuable. Less than a week after the Day was first observed, on 25 March 1911, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. In the same year, as part of the Bread and Roses campaign, and drawing on the painful tragedy of the Triangle Fire, women took the lead in fighting for fair wages, better work conditions, and equality for workers, no matter where they came from. We have come a long way since then.
The spirit of the Bread and Roses campaign is lived out every day by women across the Commonwealth who are agents for change. Women change agents promote equitable and sustainable development and democracy through advancing women’s rights, and working in partnership with men for women’s empowerment and a better world.
The UN’s theme for International Women’s Day in 2011 is ‘Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathways to decent work for women’. It is a theme which is encompassed by our own Commonwealth Day theme for the year. Women’s equal access to resources and opportunities – in education, health, employment, justice and public services delivery – is the cornerstone of the international development agenda.
Gender equality is crucial to several key development goals: promoting economic growth and accountability in the management of public goods and services; eradicating poverty and stimulating economic empowerment for marginalised groups; enhancing democracy and peace; eliminating discrimination and violence against women; ensuring education for all; improving maternal health; reducing child mortality; combating HIV/AIDS. It is also vital to health and education.
The world must summon both the political and the financial will to honour its commitment to deliver real progress on improving the lives of women and girls around the globe.
The Commonwealth believes in the potential of its women to bring about real change through developing their capacity to be change agents for development and democracy – for negotiating cultural boundaries at home and outside, brokering peace at all levels, leading in political decision making, creating wealth, nurturing the future and re-imagining the present to sustain an egalitarian world.
We will build on our own pioneering Commonwealth work for the past six decades in promoting and supporting women’s empowerment for the attainment of development and democracy across the regions.
Greetings to all of you on International Women’s Day, 2011.