It shocks, disappoints and angers me that in a world where we can fly to the moon and where we can connect to people anywhere on earth instantly online, men and women are still not equal.
The statistics are sobering. Across the globe, gender-based violence causes more deaths and disabilities among women of child-bearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Even in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s safer to be a soldier than a woman. Women do two-thirds of the world’s work for a paltry 10% of the world’s income and own just 1% of the means of production. And until recently, in the British Parliament, there were more men called David and Nick than female MPs.
As the centenary of International Women’s Day approaches, I urge you to stop and think.
Last year, I did just that. I attended the Millennium Bridge event in London, one of 119 bridge events involving 20,000 women across four continents. It was a moving and powerful show of strength. I saw many wonderful women there, standing up for equality, justice and peace. But I was struck by how many other amazing women weren’t there. It seemed to me that some people must think we already have equality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, huge gains have been made since 1911, but we still have a mountain to climb. We need to persevere with this for the sake of our daughters, our granddaughters, and the generations to come.
Motivated and inspired, I became convinced that collectively we could make a loud noise. And so the EQUALS coalition was formed - a group of leading charities and arts organisations including: Oxfam, ActionAid, Amnesty International, Care International UK, The Fawcett Society, Plan International, Save the Children, The White Ribbon Alliance For Safe Motherhood, Women’s Aid and Women for Women International. Together, we aim to re-open the debate about equality. I want this year’s centenary celebrations for International Women’s Day to be a turning point, a catalyst for tangible and positive change.
Despite the fact that half of the world’s population are female, women’s rights have become marginalised as a ‘minority issue’. Many young women feel that the label of ‘feminist’ is, at best, irrelevant to their lives and, at worst, a stigma to be avoided at all costs. Sullied by stereotypes of hairy arm-pitted man haters, the concept of feminism and its principles of equality and anti-sexism need to be refreshed and reclaimed by a new generation. Feminism shouldn’t be an F word. We should embrace it.
From Malawi to Manchester, women are being short-changed on life chances. From India to Illinois, women face violence just for being female. Of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide, the vast majority are female. For many, just getting an education is a real struggle, major decisions such as who to marry and when to have children are made for them by others, and without economic independence or a say in their own future the chances of women escaping the poverty trap are virtually non-existent.
Whether you’re a woman or a man, this affects you. And you are part of the solution. The impact of inequality is felt by every woman worldwide - your friends, your family, your colleagues, your neighbours, the people you emailed today, the woman in the car next to you, the faces you saw on television and the voices you heard on the radio. How many have been abused or faced discrimination today?
The one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day is a moment in time. Let's make it a moment that counts. Let’s make it a moment that lasts.