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We Can Bring About Change If We Stand Strong Together

06/03/2015 18:01 GMT | Updated 06/05/2015 10:59 BST

We have come so far since the first International Women's Day in 1911. At that time the Suffragettes were fighting - at times to the death - to ensure that women across the UK had the same democratic voting rights as men and in many working class communities women were taking on other industrial and class struggles.

We've come a long way since women started to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, to call for something we shouldn't have had to ask for - equal treatment - prompting the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. Since the 1970s when a group of factory workers in Dagenham said enough is enough and demanded to be paid the same as their male counterparts. And since so many other women got involved in the women's liberation movement.

It has never been more important to remember these examples of working women uniting in the face of adversity to bring about social change as admittedly there is still a long way to go.

In spite of the ground-breaking actions of the Dagenham workers in changing attitudes - and the law - 40 years on from the Equal Pay Act, the problem persists. Women still only earn 81p for every £1 a man earns and with Equal Pay Day, the day when women effectively work for free as a result of the gender pay gap, taking place three days earlier last year than the year before, it is clear that the problem is far from being solved.

In fact this Government's failure to deliver gender justice was cemented as the UK fell out of the top 20 countries on the World Economic Forum's score of gender equality for the first time ever last year. It really isn't surprising at all that TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady dubbed this Government "the most female-unfriendly in a generation" as increasing numbers of women are falling victim to in-work poverty and a cost of living crisis, rooted in the government's own ideologically-driven austerity agenda.

The trade union and wider labour movement has a strong history of standing up for women's rights and now we must build on this and look to the future. We need to ensure that women have equal status in the workplace through equal pay, equal access to work in non- traditional areas, to top jobs and equal standing. But there is no quick fix. To smash through this glass ceiling we need to start with the foundations. This means measures like introducing legislation lengthening paternity leave as the responsibility of a child should be shared more evenly between both parents and the chance of a woman getting pregnant should not be a factor in her employability.

However implementing policies like this is pointless without addressing wider societal attitudes towards women. We need prioritise putting an end to violence against women and girls. Two women die each week at the hands of a current or former male partner. This is an outrage and must be stopped but to do so we must look at mainstream sexism more generally.

As I mentioned earlier, change cannot be imposed overnight when there is a history of such deeply-entrenched and long-established discrimination but to really make a difference we must work as one. Centuries of oppression have to be overcome with concerted action and an unwillingness to accept prejudice wherever it comes from.

This is why International Women's Day is so important as it brings together women from across the world and gives us hope by reminding us we're not alone. We need to look to the inspirational women I mentioned right at the start. Their power lay in the collective nature of their actions and so does ours. Together we can bring about change if we stand strong and on International Women's Day, of all days, it is impossible not to be reminded of that.

Katy Clark is the secretary of the Trade Union Group and Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran

This blog was first published on the Trade Union Group of MPs blog, and can be read here

The Trade Union Group of MPs is a vehicle for promoting the voices of working people in Parliament, working with a wide range of MPs and trade unionists to push the political agenda on to the side of working people