Happy International Women’s Day!

This International Women’s Day, Parliament Street’s Head of Campaigns, Elizabeth Anderson shares her thoughts on what more progress must be made for us to achieve full equality!

2018 celebrates the centenary of the first women gaining the vote in this country.  Hard won, this – and the other changes of the 20th century – completely changed the rules for women like me.  As a gender, over the course of the last 100 years, we have gone from being largely subservient to largely leading.  It is easy to forget that it was not always a “right” to be as equally involved as men in politics, industry and wider society, that just TWO generations ago, our ancestors would, on the whole, have had no ambition to follow a career in leadership or debate politics.

I have written before on this blog that many of us, the politically active, live in a bubble.  We should not look at our success and believe that this follows for all women.

As we look around the UK, too many girls set their sights low.  Having worked in education, too many white working class girls aged between 11-14 in an underprivileged area where we worked saw their fortunes being made winning X Factor – or otherwise, and more likely, becoming a hairdresser.  This is all around us.  Young women, at formative ages, in the UK, lack ambition – they lack the belief that a good job is easily within their reach with hard work and confidence.  They don’t believe that they can gain the academic skills to succeed, and white working class children (of both genders), see poorer educational outcomes – this is a recognised fact (seehttps://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeduc/142/142.pdf for just one report).  We must find a way to spread our ambition, our drive, our awareness that there should be no barriers.  We need to reach out to those who are not part of our bubble, particularly those outside our big cities.  We have to create a sense that any girl, anywhere, can make it big, and it doesn’t revolve around a trip to the ITV studios.  Young women from poorer backgrounds in small, deprived towns need to aspire higher.

And it’s not just employment. As we hit our women’s suffrage centenary, too many times I have canvassed and young women, and also women from other cultures, have been uncertain on the doorstep.  Too many times they have told me “you’d have to speak to my husband, he deals with that”.  Politics is not a man’s world.  We have a female prime minister – the country’s second.  We have more female leaders than ever before in this country, and around the world, in all spheres.

So if you, reader, can do one thing to mark International Women’s Day, think about how you can make a difference to a young woman.  Join a mentoring scheme.  Become a school governor to influence and bring in careers programmes that make them re-evaluate their options for their future.  Next time you are on the doorstep, don’t mark it blank or unsure – engage that woman in a discussion about what they think about their life and how politics links into it.  You never know what you might spark.

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