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International Women's Day - 8 March 2019

International Women's Day has been celebrated since its inception in 1911. But how far have we come?

International Women’s Day (IWD) #BalanceforBetter has been celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women since its inception in 1911. However, the theme, unfortunately, is still to encourage a gender-balanced world. I say “unfortunately” as I find it astonishing that, 100 years after women’s rights activists Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett GBE and Emmeline Pankhurst et al. famously initiated the suffragette movements in the early 1900s, inequality is not just an obsolete period of discrimination assigned to the history books but is still alive and kicking today.

Progress has been made and there are many modern, forward-thinking employers of diversity (like Page & Page) who welcome talent, creativity, and imagination in both men and women. However, frustratingly, news headlines still report tales of prejudice in the workplace including sexual misconduct, unequal pay, fewer opportunities and a lack of female leadership in the boardroom.

But who is to blame? Is it men? Is it the media? Is it the Government? Or do women themselves play a part in the slow progress?

We don’t have to look too far to behold negative female role models. Reality TV shows promoting The Kardashians, Love Island and TOWIE - their lifestyles coveted by young people - literally shout from the rooftops: ‘don’t work hard, no skill or talent required, just be skinny, have big boobs, and you’ll get everything you deserve’. In a way it’s no more of a lie than the Cinderella fairytales I grew up with: ‘look beautiful and a handsome Prince will marry you’, but we didn’t have social media back then, so our minds weren’t saturated with it. Also, it was a story, not real life (unless you count Catherine and Meghan).

Fortunately, there are far more positive female role models to acknowledge. Women whose intelligence, strength and courage to make a difference deserves true reverence. From scientists to politicians, mathematicians to explorers, writers to actors, women have innovated and conquered against the odds. However, there are millions of women all over the world who make a difference to the world every single day in all aspects of life from rearing children and running homes to managing businesses but who fail to get the deserved recognition that men might.

Consider the inequality experienced by pioneers such as English chemist and X-ray crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin. In 1950, she discovered the DNA double-helix, however, it was three other scientists: James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins who went on to be recognised for the work and share the Nobel Prize in 1962. Her contributions were only recognised posthumously.

And we can only imagine the despair faced by those who have not only suffered sexism but racism too. Most notably is the infamous story of Rosa Parks, who, in 1955, during a period of segregation in the USA refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger on a public bus. She was arrested for civil disobedience under the Alabama segregation laws. She won the case and her act of defiance became an important symbol for the Civil Rights Movement. Collaborating with leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Also noted for her bravery and determination is 21 year-old Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and human rights. As a young girl, Malala was inspired by her father’s humanitarian work and she wrote a blog for the BBC about the Taliban occupation of her home town, Swat. Malala rose in prominence, giving interviews and TV appearances. Shockingly though, On 9 October 2012, whilst on a bus home from school aged just 12 years old, an assassination attempt was made on her life in retaliation for her activism, and Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. She survived the attack but whilst recovering in the UK, the Taliban threatened a second assassination. However, a fatwa was issued against them and the second attempt was never made.

In spite of all this, Malala continued to campaign for the right to education and founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation. She is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and was even nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. Malala co-write her autobiography, which was an international best-seller, featured in Time magazine as one of the most influential people globally, and was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship. Malala is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University.

It may be the responsibility of our parents to instil within us self-worth and confidence; to teach us that we can be anything we want to be with enough hard work and commitment; and to help us understand what is truly valuable in life. But, ultimately, it is our own choices and actions that make us who we are, in our strive for equality.

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” – Malala Yousafzai

A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.” – Melinda Gates

Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” – Margaret Thatcher

No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Author: Michelle Burt

8th March 2019

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