Friday is International Women's Day. And it is an opportunity for us to celebrate women in all walks of life. It is a chance to look at where we are now, how far we have come, and what needs still to be done. It is also a time to reflect on the work which is improving the lives of women across the world.
Earlier this week my colleague, Justine Greening, the Development Secretary announced that Britain will increase its support for women and girls in the poorest countries to give them more choice and control over their lives.
This included funding for the Leadership for Change Programme, which takes a pioneering approach that will support the leadership skills and opportunities of more than 50,000 women and girls across the world.
We're also supporting projects which will deliver more contraceptives to help avert around 2.6 million unintended pregnancies and prevent more than 4,500 deaths during pregnancy and childbirth.
International Women's Day is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the vital role women are playing in our own society, be it in business, education, entertainment, public service or in the home.
Over the coming week I will be hosting a series of meetings and attending a number of events on the theme of Women and Growth; from talking about the barriers faced by women starting up in business, to attending a Science Museum event encouraging more girls to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
And this all comes at a time when there are more women working in this country than ever before, and they are proving to be the engine room of this country's economic growth.
This historic high means that two-thirds of all women are now employed. In fact during the last quarter of 2012, the rise in employment overall was largely driven by the number of women coming back to the workplace.
Coupled with this is the news that the gender pay gap is decreasing so we are making progress but to reduce the gap further we have implemented measures to make pay secrecy clauses unlawful. We are also enabling Tribunals to order employers to conduct a pay audit, where an employer has been found to discriminate.
When it comes to women in the workplace we need to make sure that not only do we improve the female representation that we see on boards but that the pipeline for those senior positions is strong and effective - promoting the best and giving real opportunity.
To help ensure that this is the case we are spearheading greater transparency and equality in the workplace. Through our Think, Act, Report initiative, large employers are being encouraged to examine their recruitment, retention and remuneration policies. Already over 70 large employers - representing more than a million employees - such as Marks & Spencer, EDF Energy and Deloitte have signed up.
More is to come. We have established the Women's Business Council, which will make recommendations on how the talent of our women can be unlocked and allowed to flourish further, which will benefit our economy.
Finally, as a working mother, I know that one of the main challenges for women returning to work after starting a family is the cost of childcare. To address this, we are extending free childcare to those women who work less than 16 hours a week, and increasing the entitlement to free education and care for three and four year olds to 15 hours a week. By 2015, shared parental leave will also be available, to enable mothers and fathers to jointly share the load.
As I said at the start, International Women's Day is a good time for us to reflect on where we are on our journey, but the work to improve women's lives both here and overseas must continue 365 days a year.
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