International Women’s Day 2017

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day that is important to me and all women around the world. A Votes for Women poster hangs proudly in my office, an election gift from my daughter Bridget. It reminds me of the achievements that have been made in the fight for gender equality and of the work we have left to do.

Only 37% of MEPs are women. In the UK, only 29% of MPs are women. Globally, just 17% of government ministers are women. In most countries, women earn on average 60-75% of men’s wages. More than a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. 34% of women with a health problem or disability have experienced violence by a partner in their lifetime. The more you examine the inequality between men and women the more harrowing the picture you find.

Last year, organisations and individuals around the world supported the #PledgeForParity campaign and committed to help women and girls achieve their ambitions; challenge conscious and unconscious bias; call for gender-balanced leadership; value women and men’s contributions equally and create inclusive flexible cultures. From awareness raising to concrete action, organisations rallied their people to pledge support to help forge gender parity on International Women’s Day and beyond.

But the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. This is too long to wait. Around the world, International Women’s Day can be an important catalyst and vehicle for driving greater change for women and moving closer to gender equality.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange. In London on International Women’s Day 1914 women marched from Bow to Trafalgar Square demanding the right to vote. On International Women’s Day 1917, it was Russian women protesting for bread and peace that led to the end of the Tsarist regime. When women take bold action for change, the world listens.

Over the last year, we have seen women be bold for change. The #CzarnyProtest in Poland forced the Polish Government to drop plans to restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Millions of women across the world took part in the #WomensMarch to remind the world that women’s rights are human rights and that defending the most marginalised among us is defending all of us. Today in Ireland women are striking as part of the #Strike4Repeal campaign, demanding the law in Ireland be changed to allow women access to reproductive healthcare. Today women across the world are taking action to defend their rights, or to claim them for the first time.

We are still very far from achieving equality. As long as women and girls are valued less, overworked and underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes, the full potential of what our society can achieve will not be realised. But when women #BeBoldForChange we make sure that barriers are broken down, we demand that glass ceilings are smashed and we consign discrimination, inequality and abuse to the dustbin of history.