Queen Elizabeth II attended a service at Westminster Abbey in London to celebrate Commonwealth Day on 14th March 2011. The essential role played by women around the world as 'agents of change' formed the central theme of this year's Queen's Commonwealth Day message.
The Queen underlined how women play vital roles under many guises - from doctors and mothers to entrepreneurs. She called on individuals and groups to think of practical ways to provide support to girls and women so they could lead fuller lives.
In the pre-recorded message, The Queen 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".
A global effort
The Queen, 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 Queen said the goal was to create "greater opportunity" for women to pursue their hopes and dreams and "make the best of their talents and knowledge".
At the service, Marie Staunton, chief executive of Plan UK, spoke about the Because You're a Girl study produced by the Royal Commonwealth Society in association with Plan UK.
The survey looks at the best and worst places to be a girl in the Commonwealth based on eight indicators, including survival, education, early pregnancy, access to scholarships, women in politics, success in sports, the pay gap, and life expectancy. It found political leadership rather than wealth was a key factor in advancing gender equality.
An opportunity, not a problem
Ms Staunton said, "Today, 75 million children are denied that chance of education - because they are girls. That's more than the entire population of the UK. The half a billion girls in the Commonwealth are not our problem - they are our opportunity if we give them a chance".
The service included musical performances, readings and prayers. Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo and singer and campaigner Annie Lennox delivered speeches and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read a poem especially commissioned for the service.