22 April 2010
Women’s affairs, Thatcher and opposition to apartheid covered
Previously classified files released by the Commonwealth Secretariat this week give a unique insight into the history of women in international development 100 years after the German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the establishment of International Women’s Day.
Milestones for 2010 include a quarter century of Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meetings and 30 years since the first appointment of a Women’s adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Records released under the 30 year rule document the establishment of this role from endorsement at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka 1979, to the work of the Internal Working Party on Women & Development.
The seminal report on how the Secretariat could support national efforts, by Elizabeth Reid, is also released. She was the first ever adviser on women's affairs to the Australian Prime Minister.
1979 also saw Britain elect its first ever female Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher. After only a few months in office she attended her first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka. The records show that there was uncertainty as to how Britain and its new leader would respond to the agenda item of Southern Africa. In the event, however the meeting was hailed as a great success. In his closing remarks Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda described how an ‘atmosphere of friendship and the spirit of frankness had greatly contributed to a constructive approach to some of the most difficult problems’.
It paved the way for the Lancaster House Meeting and Zimbabwe’s independence, and it produced the Lusaka Declaration on Racism and Racial Prejudice. This declaration was a solid and unified commitment for action on South Africa, and gave little to suggest that Britain would eventually want to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime.
However, that point lay in the future, in 1979 consensus seemed to have been achieved, and with amazing swiftness too, incredibly the meeting finished a day early.
A copy of the complete list of files is available on its website at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/archive. The files are available for viewing in the Secretariat’s Library and Archives at Marlborough House and appointments may be made with Hilary McEwan, Archivist, by telephone at +44 (0)20 7747 6167, by fax at +44 (0)20 7747 6168, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.