The 14th Commonwealth Lecture was delivered by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, President, Indian National Congress and Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance. In her speech Mrs Gandhi urged the Commonwealth to spearhead inclusion of women in global climate change debate.
The lecture, one of the high points of the Commonwealth calendar, is a keynote address by an internationally renowned public figure designed to stimulate intellectual debate about the 54-member association and its role in world affairs.
“Women as Agents of Change” was announced as Commonwealth Day theme for 2011.
The theme was chosen to unify Commonwealth Day celebrations which started on the 14th of March 2011 and running up to the 20th of the month. The theme also provides a focus for further Commonwealth activities throughout the year.
“Women as Agents of Change” celebrates women whose work has made a positive difference to the lives of others and emphasises the Commonwealth message that by investing in women and girls we can accelerate social, economic and political progress in our member states.
The full text of Mrs Gandhi’s speech is still available (at the time of writing) on the Commonwealth Foundation website: www.commonwealthfoundation.com
While Mrs Gandhi was delivering her keynote address in the auditorium, the mood outside was far from cordial. A group of protesters had congregated behind a barrier with posters calling on Mrs Gandhi to act for the rights of Tamil women in Sri Lanka.
DID INDIA LET DOWN INNOCENT TAMIL WOMEN IN 2009?
Sri Lanka, an island nation with a population of 20.4 million people (UN, 2010), has been scarred by a long and bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in the northeast.
After more than 25 years of violence, the conflict appeared to be at an end – at least militarily – in May 2009, when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.
It is however believed that India played a major role in supporting the Sri Lankan Government’s military offensive in 2009 against Tamil rebels on the neighbouring Island.
MOTIVATED BY REVENGE?
Mrs Gandhi’s party has been accused of backing this offensive and turning a blind eye to the resultant massacre of innocent civilians out of ‘revenge’, because it was alleged that Tamil rebels had earlier been responsible for the death of Mrs Gandhi’s husband.
Unfortunately, the end of the war has resulted in tens of thousands of war widows who, rather than being ‘Agents of change’, are struggling to make ends meet and are faced with a choice of prostitution or poverty.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The protesters wanted an opportunity to ask Mrs Gandhi whether she is happy with what happened in Sri Lanka and what can India do to protect Tamil civilians, including the many widows, from the Sri Lanka Government.