Last Saturday marked International Women’s Day, a celebration of the work of people across the world, and across the generations, to secure gender equality between men and women.
International Women’s Day reminds us that equality doesn’t just transform individual lives; it boosts the welfare and strength of whole national communities. To inhibit the contribution of 50% of the population is to impose artificial limits on the vigour, creativity and richness of national life.
The developing world is showing us what an impact the removal of these limits can have. Under the expert guidance of the United Nations international aid payments, including money generously given by UK taxpayers, are breaking down old gender taboos, enabling women to play an increasing role within their own societies. One statistic in particular shows the progress that international aid has secured. In 1990 for every 100 boys in secondary school in the developing world, there were only 76 girls. Today they are 96 girls at school for every 100 boys. Increasing numbers of better educated women entering the workforce represents good news for developing countries. Recent research by the international think tank the Economic Intelligence Unit has shown that in countries where women had the same access to education and work as men poverty rates fall by at least a fifth.
Equality, supported by international aid, is therefore acting as a catalyst in developing countries; helping to turn some of the poorest peoples in the world into stable nations, and in many cases trading partners with the UK. A win win situation for all involved.
We don’t have to go back very far into our own past to see that equality brings societal and political benefits, as well as economic ones. It is often forgotten that the suffragettes who campaigned so bravely to secure votes for women also secured votes for all men. The suffragette campaign, stressing as it did that everyone affected by Government decisions should have the right to elect that Government, successfully convinced the Government of 1918 (a reforming Conservative-Liberal Coalition as it happens) to open up the franchise not just to women, but also to all men over the age of 21. The foundations from which modern British democracy has been built were laid by gender equality campaigners.
As a Conservative I believe that the past can nourish and strengthen our efforts to build a better future. As we look to build on the legacy of the suffragettes, and the work of women in developing countries, we should honour what has been achieved to date. I am therefore joining the campaign for an iconic visual reminder of the ongoing campaign for equality, in the form of a Parliamentary statue of Emily Davidson, the suffragette who died for her cause in 1913.
In remembering Emily’s sacrifice, and in celebrating International Women’s Day every year, we reflect on how far we have come, the benefits this increased equality has brought us, and what more we can achieve.