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If We Lose Focus, Progress On Gender Equality Can Easily Be Lost

10/03/2017 16:50 GMT | Updated 10/03/2017 17:18 GMT
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As the Women Of The World Festival takes place at London's South Bank Centre, three politicians from across the political spectrum blog on the challenges facing women in 2017. You can read Labour MP Stella Creasy on Brexit's threat to women's rights here, and Conservative MP Suella Fernandes on domestic abuse here

Last October in a speech to Gender Networks, I lamented the fact that despite Hillary Clinton being one of the most qualified people in history to run for US President, it was only when her opponent was caught bragging about getting away with sexual assault that she had finally pulled decisively ahead in the polls. I warned that a danger of her being elected President would be complacency, people assuming gender equality was now achieved (*tick*) and we could move on to the next issue.

If only that was what we were worrying about as we celebrate International Women's Day this year. Instead the occupant of the White House is a constant reminder that there is absolutely nothing inevitable about gender equality.

Things can - and do - go backwards. With the efforts of Vince Cable, Lord Davies, Helena Morrissey and many others we drove women's representation in FTSE boardrooms up to record levels, yet Egon Zehnder found that the proportion of women appointed to Boards in 2016 actually decreased. The Equality & Human Rights Commission finding last year that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination is shocking in itself, but even more so when you consider that this figure has almost doubled since 2005.

In all the metrics about how many years it will take to achieve gender equality in any given field we are used to depressingly distant dates like 2067 or 2095. For women in technology the answer to when equality will be achieved if current trends continue is never.

At the same time, a backlash grows, as anyone who dares to voice feminist opinions online is only too aware. Comedian Richard Herring again patiently marked International Women's Day with public service responses to the scores of stroppy men, apparently unable to use a search engine, who tweet "when's International Men's Day?". Those keyboard owners seem markedly more exercised to complain about International Women's Day than to actually celebrate International Men's Day on 19 November. One in eight people say women's equality has gone too far. How much higher than 18% do they want the gender pay gap to be? If women leading 11 out of 195 countries in the world is too many, how many more male leaders do they think the world needs?

Last week Trudy Harrison was sworn into Parliament - the 454th woman MP ever elected. Her arrival means that for the first time ever the combined total number of women MPs in all of history is greater than the number of men MPs currently sitting in the House of Commons.

It's important to look where we've come from and celebrate the milestones on our journey. But we need to keep a firm eye on the destination and make sure we keep moving forwards. If we lose focus or take our foot off the pedal, progress on gender equality can easily be lost.

Perhaps the silver lining of Donald Trump's victory is to shatter our complacency. Gender equality won't just happen automatically by itself. Women and men need to work together to challenge the myriad of gender inequalities in our daily lives, from the little frustrations to the huge injustices, from the structural biases to the gender stereotypes that constrain everyone. It is hard work to unpick the sexism deeply ingrained in our institutions, our culture and our own experience.

We can draw hope from the huge numbers who turned out for the Women's March and the positive spirit in which they gathered. We can be inspired by events like Women of the World Festival, reminding us we are part of a wide and wonderful movement. Most importantly, we need to channel that energy into the action we can all take in our everyday lives to bring a gender equal world one step closer.

Jo Swinson is a former Lib Dem minister and MP, and director of Equal Power

The Women Of The World Festival takes place at London's Southbank Centre from 10-12 March. For more information, visit the WOW Festival website

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com