Celebrating International Women’s Day is not enough

Since 1911 International Women's Day has marked the economic, political and social achievements of women from around the world. But celebration alone is not enough, much more needs to be done to break down the barriers which are holding women back. This year’s theme is ‘make it happen’ and is a fitting reminder that we all have our part to play to tackle injustice and inequality in whatever form it takes, in any part of the world

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Clare George-Hilley
On 8 March 2015 15:18

International Women’s Day is an impressive global celebration, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women from all walks of life around the globe. Like many other volunteers, I have had this privilege of playing a part in this annual event many times before and found it as inspiring as it is effective for raising important issues.

This morning, I helped organise volunteers for the Walk in Her Shoes event, which was attended by Nicky Morgan, education secretary, and several other leading Conservative activists. The event is designed to remind us all that many thousands of women across the world have to walk for miles to reach clean water and are often deprived of basic medical care and protection.

But this year, International Women’s Day has a much stronger slogan; “Make it happen.” This call for action is a reminder that the issues discussed and debated today require action from individuals, governments and businesses to bring about change.

It was Margaret Thatcher, the first female British Prime Minister who said, “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” So for everyone who is playing a part in today’s celebrations, we must remember the need to take action and implement the changes that need to be made to give women a better chance and enable them with fresh opportunities.

In Britain today, women make up only 17 percent of board directors at FTSE 100 companies. Many women who choose to have children struggle to balance the responsibility of raising a family with building a successful career. This has to change.

The sharp rise in new working technologies, such as tablet computers, smartphones and cloud computing solutions mean that women can work from anywhere at any time, accessing all the information they need. But this cannot happen unless employers make the effort and investment into flexible working infrastructure to give employees the opportunity to remain totally productive at work, whilst juggling the responsibilities of a busy family life.  

Elsewhere in the developing world, one in nine girls is forced into marriage before their 15th birthday, whilst some are banned for working in certain occupations or holding a driving licence. In some areas, marital rape is legal, as well as forced marriages and suppression remaining culturally and socially acceptable.

These backwards practices have even found their way into Britain, seen in the recent grooming abuse scandals by gangs of Muslim men in Rotherham and Oxford. In both scandals, the Police, social services and other agencies turned a blind eye to the widespread mistreatment of women. These vulnerable girls were enduring regular rapes and abuse on British soil and it must never be allowed to happen again.

We’ve already seen action from David Cameron and the Conservatives, who have promised to jail any worker who fails to take action on child sex abuse. But tackling the problem of paedophilia requires full and public backing from all local communities, charities and local agencies to send a clear message that it will not be tolerated and the perpetrators will be severely punished. It is illegal in Britain and it should be illegal everywhere else.

In the developing world, by expanding education and access to technology, we can ensure future generations of women get a better start in life. But this can only be delivered by ensuring that the hardworking volunteers and aid agencies, who make such a huge impact, are free to operate without fear of hostile attacks from governments seeking to continue the suppression of women.

So this year, as we celebrate International Women’s Day let us remember that actions speak louder than words and we all have our part to play in delivering opportunities for women at home and abroad.

International Women’s Day is a positive force for celebration, but it must also be a platform for action and transformation to empower women across the world.

Clare George-Hilley is Director of Communities and Social Justice, Parliament Street Research Council. She is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. @ClareHilley

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