Social Justice

We asked leading figures in the fight for women's equality what changes they want to see this International Women's Day

International Women's Day is celebrated every year on March 8.

ilustration of girl raising her fist and holding bullhorn for international women's day

International Women's Day began in the early 1900s. (Image: FreePik)

It’s International Women’s Day, which aims to celebrate women and bring attention to issues of gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women and girls.

IWD has been celebrated since the early 20th century, spurred on by the women’s suffrage movement and supported by labour unions and socialist groups to attend rallies and marches championing a woman’s right to work, vote, hold public office, and to be free from discrimination.

We see fewer rallies and more efforts of social media activism nowadays. While social media platforms are valuable for amplifying voices and spreading awareness, IWD is often reduced to a hashtag or simply posting inspirational quotes, when it could be so much more.

Hashtag activism is not going to fix the gender pay gap, threats to reproductive rights, reduced employment opportunities, improved access to education, maternal mortality rates, and gender-based violence.

What women across the world really need is real, substantive change.

We spoke to leading figures in the fight for women’s equality about what meaningful changes they want to see going into IWD. Here’s what they said.

Preeti Dasgupta, deputy director at Collage Arts

“Real world equality – in wealth distribution, gender, race and ability across the whole world. By reducing poverty and improving access, the world would become a better place to live.”

Jess Eagelton, policy & public affairs manager at Refuge

“The past year has seen misogyny and violence against women and girls (VAWG) consistently making headline news and spreading rapidly across social media. The epidemic of male violence is something which I know many people are deeply concerned by, but there are ways we can come together to tackle it.

“The Online Safety Bill is now reaching the latter stages of its legislative journey, and we have a real chance to ensure the Bill properly protects women and girls through the introduction of a VAWG Code of Practice.

“Education and awareness raising are vital to our core mission of ending domestic abuse, which is why we have supported the Make it Mandatory campaign to call for all 16-19 year olds to receive mandatory education on domestic abuse and coercive control. 

“More than 80% of the survivors we support access community-based services, so I cannot overstate the importance of ensuring that they have the appropriate amount of ring-fenced funding in the upcoming Victims Bill, which could end the postcode lottery around their provision. 

“This International Women’s Day, I would urge you to support Refuge to stand against misogyny and make a real difference for survivors of abuse.”

Women's march in Malaysia with protest sign that says boys will be boys but the second boys is struck out and replaced with 'held accountable' instead to fight against misogyny and abuse and for equality, which is what many people speak on for International Women's Day.
Women’s march in Malaysia. (Image: Michelle Ding/Unsplash)

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Sara Bowcutt, managing director at Women for Women International UK

“I would like to see an end to gender based violence. Violence against women and girls is the biggest block to the realisation of women’s rights and a horrific human rights violation, affecting one in every three women worldwide.

“The risk is even higher in conflict-affected countries where Women for Women International works. Violence against women also undermines efforts to eradicate poverty and promote inclusive, sustainable development.

“To end violence, including sexual violence in conflict, we must challenge the harmful, unwritten norms that tolerate these abuses. We will only achieve this by promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Pregnant then Screwed

“We want a society where care is valued and in which pregnant women and mothers in all their diversity are enabled to fulfill their potential.”

Jess Southgate, head of policy at Agenda Alliance

Far from being an afterthought, at Agenda Alliance we believe International Women’s Day must mean that women and girls who face life’s most complex challenges, like poverty; abuse; substance misuse and mental ill-health, go to the top of the list for support and life-changing policy decisions. 

This means: 

  • prioritising better women and girl’s mental health support which is widely available and specially adapted in terms of gender, trauma, age and culture;
  • stop sending too many women and girls to prison to avoid unnecessary criminalisation. Focus on solutions like women’s community centres;
  • stop resorting to school exclusions, particularly for Black, Asian and minoritised girls. When things go wrong, girls must get help promptly. 

On this global day of all days, it’s a timely reminder that discrimination in all its forms must be stamped out, to truly improve the lives of women and girls. It starts with doing no more harm.

Maria Caulfield, minister for women, Conservative MP for Lewes

“I want to see women thriving in the workplace, where I’m determined to increase female representation in emerging sectors.

“That is why we are helping women back into work into science, technology, engineering and maths based roles.

“We know that there are 75,000 people – the majority of which are women – who previously worked in STEM and are economically inactive due to caring responsibilities. 

“Our STEM Recharge initiative can help them back into these sectors with support such as personalised employability coaching and sector-specific refresh training. 

“This makes good business sense, and I hope employers will embrace the initiative.”

Anneliese Dodds, shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, Labour MP for Oxford East

“Labour’s priority is to tackle the scandalous epidemic of violence against women and girls.

“Keir Starmer prosecuted rapists and sex offenders as head of the Crown Prosecution Service and I know how important it is to him to put victims first.  

“We will end the postcode lottery and awful delays facing victims of rape by bringing in specialist rape courts to prioritise these cases and ensure justice is served, tackle domestic abuse by putting experts in the 999 control rooms of every police force in the country, and implement tougher sentences for rape.”

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East

“International Women’s Day has its roots in working class women fighting for the vote, greater rights and better conditions. It’s a reminder of all that the women’s movement has achieved, but also a chance to demand the further change we still need.

“This International Women’s Day, I want to see a commitment from employers and the government to stamp out low pay. Women are disproportionately paid below the Real Living Wage, making them particularly vulnerable to the cost of living crisis. We need a £15 an hour minimum wage.”

Women's march in Sweden with protest sign that says The Future is Female, a primary message for equality during International Women's Day.
Protest sign in Sweden. (Image: Lindsey Lamont/Unsplash)

Hayley Roffey, global managing director at the Global Fund for Children

“If I could trade hashtag days and awareness weeks for one tangible improvement, it would be equitable access to education for girls. In far too many countries around the world, girls and young women still face barriers to accessing quality education.

“The reasons vary from place to place and include a lack of menstrual hygiene materials, harmful social norms, a lack of political will, and government-imposed restrictions. But no matter the reason, the effect is the same: girls are denied the opportunities they need to reach their full potential.”

Tanya Taylor, volunteer at Sister Supporter

“If we could swap all the hashtag days and awareness weeks for one real change in the world, we would ensure that safe access zones were set up outside every abortion providing service in the world.

“This would ensure that people were able to access reproductive services safely, anonymously, and free from intimidation and harassment no matter where they live and end the decades of anti-choice harassment that we see both here in the UK and across the globe. We would also want to make abortion safe, legal and locally available everywhere too.”

Alison Harper, artistic director at The Essential School of Painting

“The first thing that came to mind was clean water for all. Then I thought no, UBI, Universal Basic Income for all.

“Then I thought no, meditation of universal loving kindness for all every morning plus free compulsory art classes! Then no, clean energy for all. If I had to choose one, it would be meditation – to change the minds and hearts of people to stop exploiting others and the planet.” 

Manjushri Mitra, multimedia journalism trainer and visiting lecturer at Roehampton University

“Gender equality. For example, when women have access to education it raises a family’s education, health prospects, and income, raising the standard of living.  It reduces chances that they’ll be in poverty.

“Educated women typically want smaller families and their kids’ health and survival chances are better.

“Women tend to be better at conservation too. All the places with higher female literacy do better and I’d want to extend further to equality across the board, because we need more representation in leadership too.”

Anne Quesney, senior advocacy adviser at ActionAid UK

“We are witnessing a major backlash against gender equality, and this is partly manifesting itself through an increase in gender-based violence. Violence, or the threat of it, is a daily reality for women and girls and affects every aspect of women and girls’ lives, making it one of the most widespread and insidious human rights abuses in the world.  

“Gender-based violence is a reflection of deeply entrenched gender inequalities and social norms that prevail across all levels of society and much more needs to be done to shift attitudes, beliefs and power structures that condone, ignore and sometimes even encourage it.

“We know that ending gender-based violence is possible – and would like to see governments prioritise and promote legislation, implementation and resourcing of existing laws and international agreements – such as the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW).”

Do you have lived experience or burning opinions to share about this story? We want to hear from you. And we want to share your views with more people. Get in touch and tell us more.

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