Today is International Women’s Day

TODAY is International Women’s Day (IWD) and enables us to reflect on how far women’s rights have come. It also lets us address the enormous changes that still do need to be made. March 8th, the day recognised by the United Nations, had its roots way back in 1908, when 15,000 women in New York marched to demand shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

That historic march was 110 years ago, but can we really say, here in 2018, that we are that much closer to getting equality for women?

In the UK, certain of us are still striving for women to be given the same opportunities, representation, recognition and pay as men. The levels of gendered violence are horrific, with an average of two women a week being murdered by their current or past partner and ‘honour-based’ violence, forced marriage and domestic violence being inflicted predominantly on women. How can something as horrific as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) even exist in this day and age?

I welcome campaigns like the #MeToo Movement and the Everyday Sexism Project. This awareness is needed as I don’t know of a woman who hasn’t experienced sexual abuse, intimidation or harassment in some form – and I include myself in that. This all seems so normal to women now that we simply tend to brush it off, justify it or somehow blame ourselves.

If the thousands of victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham had been boys, would the authorities have acted differently? I constantly question this, and yes, I think they would. The girls in our town were seen, at best, as: ‘exploring their sexuality’ and at worst that it was somehow their fault. I don’t believe that either of these would have been levelled at boys – do you?

So why is this still going on? Why does society accept that women deserve less pay, less rights, less respect and less justice? I appreciate that only a tiny proportion of men actively subjugate women, but why do the rest of us, men and women alike, collude and allow it to continue?

I believe education to be the solution and this is why myself and many others have been fighting for every primary school child to receive relationship education. This will build the aspirations of all children, teach them respect for themselves and others, as well as the ability to recognise abusive behaviour, question it and have the knowledge to report it. As adults, we need to recognise the sad fact that violence against women and girls is a reality. We must acknowledge gender bias and use it to challenge the assumptions that hold women and girls back and stop them reaching their full potential.

In another 110 years’ time, I want International Women’s Day to be one where equality is celebrated and people look back with historic curiosity on a bizarre period in time when half the world’s population were denied the respect and recognition that every human deserves – irrespective of their gender. Now that really would be something for all of us to celebrate.

Grateful thanks to Rotherham Advertiser for also publishing this in their letters page.

Matthew Trueman