Today, all over the world, thousands of events are taking place to mark the 101st International Women's Day (IWD). In fact, programmes of events have been taking place all through this month. Some have even been ongoing since January.
Considering that (and how long it's been going) it's amazing, I think, that it doesn't get more coverage in the lead up – particularly in the UK, which is holding 428 events (more than any other country), and particularly as it is such a positive thing. It's a terribly depressing thought that – certainly on the other 364 days of the year – the majority of young women are more likely to know what Kim Kardashian wore last night than they are to know why IWD even exists.
Women in the UK are extremely fortunate not to suffer the way others do across the world. In relative terms, and with our genitals intact, we have it pretty good. But even here, women are facing a bleaker future than they have done for decades, as summed up in the Guardian today by Polly Toynbee. Women are literally being forced back in time. It makes for pretty grim reading.
The overall theme of IWD 2012 is Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures, and that strikes a chord with me on a personal level. It sounds terrible, but I honestly don't think I truly, properly considered, until I had my own children, how people's reactions to me based on my gender might have affected my life. Neither had I considered how society's treatment of, and attitude towards, women generally might have affected my own behaviour.
Now I have two daughters and the question of who will act as their role models is a worry. They are just two and three years old now – far too little to be taught about the terrible struggles and maltreatment that women far away from here face on a daily basis. But already they must be being influenced, on a deep-rooted psychological level, by the power of the media and by the attitudes of society at large. It is so utterly wrong that the real issues facing women are constantly shrouded by the suffocating veil of glamour and celebrity. Aspiration comes covered in glitter, and it wears heels.
IWD is not a bra-burning exercise; there is no underlying message of women being better or more worthy than men. It's a day that seeks to celebrate women and their economic, political and social achievements – and also to act as a reminder, a champion that highlights serious gender issues across the globe: inequality, violence, poverty, powerlessness. Important problems that should have a light shone upon them constantly, not just for 24 hours.
So I am making a pledge to my own daughters that, as they get older, I'll do my very best to make sure they see the full picture. Truly inspiring women, from all walks of life, making great strides in business, politics, science, sport, art and literature need to be visible to them always. They will need to be armed with a full spectrum of knowledge, and (assuming they will still face an uphill struggle, which is likely thanks to our coalition government) the strength and the confidence to succeed.
Perhaps if all women make the spirit of IWD a constant, rather than an annual thing, fewer daughters will be shepherded into boxes, and fewer will equate success with big boobs and stretch limos. Let's fight the good fight! Happy International Women's Day everyone.