International Women's Day celebrates its 99th birthday in 2009, while the Modern Commonwealth celebrates its 60th. Yet Women's Day on 8th March and Commonwealth Day on 9th March honour the themes of time immemorial, and both are intrinsically linked
The Commonwealth is an organisation of values, forging collective responses to collective challenges, while paying special attention to the needs of the world's most vulnerable people and places. And women are among the Commonwealth's most vulnerable constituents: fully two-thirds of those of its children out of primary school, its citizens living below the poverty line, its HIV sufferers, its disenfranchised people, are women. The mathematics confront us with the stark fact that half of the world's people bear considerably more than half of its problems.
For this reason, the Commonwealth has no higher priority than its women. At grass roots level, it trains female entrepreneurs, educates young women about maternal health, uses women as mediators in situations of conflict, and advocates women's proper democratic representation on the political stage. Meanwhile with its member governments, it advocates 'gender mainstreaming', in that there should be a women's angle - and accompanying policy and budget - to each and every aspect of national life, and to the work of any national or local Ministry or administration. In the Commonwealth and beyond, this work is far from complete: the fractions are still badly skewed.
The fortunes and opportunities of women are the litmus test of the health of any society. An anniversary is always a time of celebration - and of reflection. For the Commonwealth as for the world, the challenges of old are as stark and simple as they were. Everyone on this planet has an equal right to their 'place in the sun' - rich and poor, young and old, healthy and sick, urban and rural - men and women, boys and girls.