Halebury celebrates International Women’s Day 2016: introduction by Janvi Patel
“The gender imbalance is an apartheid that is millennial in duration and global in reach” Shami Chakrabati, Liberty
I recently watched the film Suffragettes and, by chance, I was reading On Liberty, by Shami Chakrabati at the same time. The impact of both pieces of work gave me chills down the back of my neck. It has been 88 years since the Equal Franchise Act 1928 when women obtained the same voting rights as men in the UK; a victory which took a monumental fight to win. However, we are still struggling to get equal rights for women within our society and essentially, we are still fighting to have access to enforce those rights.
Sadly we still have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality. Whether we look at access to medical care and the disproportionately low contribution to medical research on women’s issues, access to education and jobs, to the right to choose who you marry; the struggle continues. For many, I understand that life, especially in Europe and in the US, seems equal, but you just need to look at the pay inequality (according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, women earn on average £300,000 less than men over their working lives in the UK), figures on poverty (women in the US are three times more likely than men to live in poverty after retirement), women in government (29% of MPs are women in the UK) and women on boards (women make up 23% of FTSE100 board members) to see that our society is far from this.
For this year’s International Women’s Day, we would like to celebrate by honouring some amazing women who are creating, defending and protecting human and women’s rights as well as access to them. There are of course many routes to achieving these goals, but these women are working at the coalface to change the status quo through the heart of society; the legislative and governmental systems. They are both trained and qualified lawyers and are using their skills to ensure that the fundamentals of our judicial and legislative structure remain true to the ideal of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” As Lincoln implies, this is not only for women’s rights but for all of us; men and women, old and young, irrespective of sexual orientation or religious beliefs, should have equal rights in society, which should be projected by law and that everyone should have full and independent access to.
For Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of Equality Now, this means campaigning to change the law and access to it on a global platform. Equality Now and Yasmeen are incredible. Whether they are working with governments to prevent trafficking, protecting women from FGM and sexual violence, or attacking discrimination in the law, their aim is to make our world and society more equal.
Tabitha Bonney, a senior lawyer at the Government Legal Department, is using her skills to uphold international law, human rights and humanitarian law. Not only does Tabitha battle for human rights in the international arena, she works closer to home too. In 2013, Tabitha set up a not-for-profit to take over local childcare services, which faced government cutbacks.
These incredible women have inspired us in their relentless fight, taken to the very heart of our legislative and judicial system, to have equality for all.
For IWD 2016, we should all take a moment to celebrate how far we have travelled from the days of the Suffragettes, but also to see where we all can effect change to ensure we live in a more equal world. These women are using their skills to do this, which means they are changing the law and campaigning for access to it. However, we each have to look at our own skill set to see what we can do to make equality a reality for the women in our own lives but also for those around the world. As Hillary Clinton once said, “women’s rights are human rights”. We have, in some parts of the world, achieved significant gains in human rights. The bar must now be raised to equality for all, and in all areas.
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