For decades the 8th March has brought people together to fight and campaign for a more inclusive and equal world. International Women’s Day is marked across the globe. It is a time to reflect on what progress has been made and to focus on where more needs to be done.
At home, in school, in work and in politics gender parity is critical to empowering women and releasing the full potential of countries and communities.
Our area has a proud tradition in this respect and, when I stood to be your Member of Parliament, I was privileged to follow a little after Muriel Matters who ran in the 1924 General Election. She was a prominent suffragette, a tireless campaigner for women’s right to vote, who took her campaign to the House of Commons when she protested in the Ladies’ Gallery, and to the skies when she flew over London in a ‘Votes for Women’ airship.
When I attend the Women’s World Day of Prayer service in Hastings I always reflect on the courage and dedication of women like Muriel, and others across the world, who take strong and pragmatic action to further gender equality. I fully support the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day: ‘Be Bold For Change’.
In the UK there are now 196 female MPs – 30% of the total. This is a record high, however, there is still more to do to increase the involvement of women and girls in politics. In the Conservative Party the Women2Win group is providing support, advice and training to those who wish to enter parliament or become more engaged in politics. I am pleased that, in just over ten years, the number of female Conservative MPs has more than trebled with the most recent, Trudy Harrison, elected in Copeland just last week. The Labour Party has an equivalent scheme - Emily’s List.
Although our country’s gender pay gap is at its lowest ever level at 18.1% it is still far too high. As a government we want to see this eliminated completely. To achieve this we are extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, introducing shared parental leave, and seeing what the barriers are to women reaching the top jobs and how they can be removed.
As well as doing more at home, we also recognise our responsibility to support women and girls around the world.
Education provides children with the best route out of poverty. Between 2011 and 2015 the Government supported over 11 million children, including 5.3 million girls, in primary and lower secondary education in developing countries. We have committed to help at least another 11 million children in the poorest countries gain a decent education by 2020.
The UK is a world leader in tackling violence against women and girls. We support the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and we have committed to increased investment of £80 million to oversee the delivery of the violence against women and girls strategy here in the UK.
Incredible progress has been made over the last century to give women across the globe the rights they deserve. However, there is still so much more to do in parliaments, boardrooms and schools both here and worldwide. Events such as International Women’s Day are reminders that we can all play our part to ensure that, no matter what your background or gender, you should always have the chance to achieve your true potential.