March 8 is International Women’s Day. I will be celebrating by attending a number of functions in Peterborough intended to mark the day.
This is a special year; it was 100 years ago that the Representation of the People Act was passed, which granted women the right to vote.
One hundred years sounds like a long time, but it’s worth considering that there are people alive today whose lifespan extends back further than that. It was not so long ago that women couldn’t choose their representatives.
Also, women who had a career outside the home were considered to be abnormal, and upon returning home from work they were expected to be subservient to their husbands.
I’m conscious of the fact that 100 years ago it would have been impossible for me to be an MP. But it was not that long ago. Yes, the number of people who can remember that time is dwindling, but it still remains within the boundary of living memory.
Much has been achieved but there is much still to do. Although women are half the population, we only have 32 per cent of the seats in Parliament. According to the Independent newspaper, women are losing out on nearly £140 billion per year due to the gender pay gap. The last time I checked, there were only seven female chief executives amidst the FTSE 100.
The #MeToo movement has shown sexual harassment is still rife and pervasive; more women are at work and able to pursue their dreams, but equality is yet to be achieved.
It’s clear women in other countries have much further to go: according to a 2013 study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, one in three women in the world have experienced violence. The same study indicated much of the violence is close to home: 38 per cent of murdered women were killed by their partner. The World Bank stated in 2016 that only 18 out of 173 countries have specific legislation addressing sexual harassment in public places.
Nevertheless, there is progress being made, even if it is incremental: Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to allow women to drive was very welcome. Personal independence often begins with being able to choose where one wants to go. More women are being elected: Taiwan, Singapore, Estonia, and Serbia in recent years voted in their first female leaders.
Issues like sexual harassment in the workplace and pay inequality are being discussed, and airing these problems is the first step on the road to their resolution. Nevertheless, as I continue to work on these issues in Parliament, I will bear the following in mind: equality is as much a journey as it is a destination. What we do in Westminster every day should facilitate to this passage to liberty.