International Women’s Day is a day that places women centre stage, right across the globe, celebrating women’s contribution to humanity and our perspectives on the world.
It’s also a day to take stock. And the reality is that still, all over the world, women and girls are denied the opportunity to fulfil their potential and are denied the right to personal safety and health, simply because they are born female.
So what are the challenges that remain and what can we do about these?
1. Embrace ‘feminism’. Make it your own
Let’s be clear: feminism is the conviction that men and women should be treated equally; that the aspirations of both boys and girls should be nurtured rather than quashed or hindered for some because of their gender. Men and women should stand side by side, rather than one walking through life in front of the other (as is still literally the case in some countries). If you agree with these ideas, call yourself a feminist. There is without doubt a resurgence in feminism – the more the merrier!
2. Online activism: nothing is too small or too big
What my ancestors would have given for the tools for change we have at our disposal today: the internet, social media, online petitions… We all have endless opportunities to engage and make a difference, and we should do so, using our voices for good in ways which are no longer silenced. Activism through social media is creating an exciting bubbling up of feminism, tackling inequality and injustice wherever it occurs. Visit Change.org and support the petitions of others, or start your own about an issue you care about. To paraphrase Gandhi: ‘Start the change you wish to see’
3. Object to objectification
Sadly, the very same tools that amplify the feminist voice are also the ones that feed the objectification of girls and women. We must no longer accept the kind of objectification of women’s bodies that leads to the levels of eating disorders, depression, bullying and sexual exploitation of our girls that we see today. No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism are a great start and encourage a change in attitude that cannot come quickly enough.
4. “Vote for women!” A gender representative government
Less than 0.2 per cent of the world’s population are governed by a gender representative parliament. Here in the UK, less than a quarter of MPs are women. Without an equal and more balanced number of women and men in power, we will never see truly representative government and the systemic change we desire. Women will forever be struggling to fit into a mould that is overwhelmingly male-shaped: in politics, in the workplace and in society.
Support courageous women who put themselves forward in politics, and most of all don’t waste your vote. It saddens me to think how appalled my suffragette ancestors would be to learn of the low voter turnout at general elections. After all their sacrifices, they would have anticipated and deserved much greater engagement – so speak up until we achieve equal representation. Casting your vote is a simple but powerful exercise of your rights.
5. Walk in her shoes
We still live in a world in which women and girls sometimes live as beasts of burden and in domestic servitude because of a lack of access to basic services such as water. Join me in London on International Women’s Day (8 March) to walk in solidarity with women and girls in developing countries who have to walk for miles every day to collect clean water for their families. This back-breaking work comes at the cost of schooling and opportunities for paid work, and the knock-on effect is that they remain trapped in poverty.
My London walk will launch CARE International’s Walk In Her Shoes campaign, which asks people in the UK to walk 10,000 steps a day for one week from 24-30 March. Funds raised will support CARE’s work, which includes providing clean water to poor communities, helping to free women and girls to live, learn, earn and thrive.