International Women’s Day was not only about celebrating progress but about pushing for more and that’s why I’m #StillMarching and backing Helen Pankhurst’s call for a decade of suffrage. Gender equality is like an elastic band, you can stretch it but if you don’t stretch it far enough it reverts back to its usual position. This is why we need to keep making the case and why the Global Goals are so important as they give the world a much-needed global agenda.
This year the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sent shockwaves around much of the developed world, giving a voice to millions of women previously silenced. However, women and girls in the poorest countries are still not being heard.
2018 marks 100 years since the first women were legally allowed to vote in the UK. Huge progress has been made however, in reality there is still a huge amount more to do. For example, less than 10% of Pakistani women turned out at the last election.
We are far from achieving global equality, with 130 million girls around the world still being deprived an education and only two countries in the world having equal representation of women in parliament. We have the power to change this and this is why UK aid is keeping girls in schools, stamping out gender violence and giving women a voice in shaping the future of their countries.
As Britain redefines its role in the world, this is more important than ever. We must hold Britain to the highest of standards and push for us to remain a global, moral leader investing in women and girls across the globe.
The single most powerful way to make the world a safer, healthier and more prosperous place is by investing in women and girls, in particular getting girls into the classroom.
I have seen for myself in Lebanon the good that UK aid can do when I visited a school with Save the Children to meet displaced Syrian girls. They were receiving an education, at a school set up by Malala, to ensure that we aren’t losing a generation of girls who could be future teachers or doctors in Syria. Everyone I met wanted to return to help rebuild their home country when it was safe to do so.
We know that you cannot achieve any meaningful development without investing in women and girls. Yet millions of girls between the ages of six and 17 are still being deprived an education. In countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria there are millions of girls who may never get the chance to enter a classroom, with child marriage and sexual violence being among the reason girls are kept out of school.
It has been proven time and time again that getting girls in the classroom is the single most powerful way to achieve development – it boosts economic growth, reduces population pressures, reduces conflict and improves health. Moreover, it is profoundly the right thing to do.
When girls are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add $92 billion per year to their economies. Educated girls are also less likely to marry young and more likely to have healthy, educated children, with each additional year of school a girl completes cutting both infant mortality and child marriage rates. Communities are also more stable and can recover faster after conflict when girls are educated, with extremism growing hand in hand with inequality.
We also know that to effectively govern the population, parliaments need to be representative of their population, drawing upon the widest possible pools of talent and experience. Yet currently men are still dominating the corridors of power around the world.
In the UK, men currently outnumber women 2:1 in parliament with only 32% of MPs being female, listing us number 39 in the world below many countries across the world including many of our European neighbours. When visiting the Rwandan Parliament I was impressed to hear that 64% of MPs are female. Despite their harrowing history, the country is leading the way in female political representation. Partially due to the unique opportunity presented to women following the genocide in which many men were imprisoned or killed and partially due to political leadership at the very top who called for equal opportunities for all in Rwanda and brought in progressive legislation, such as land rights for women. If Rwanda can do this then so can we.
The UK Government has a strong track record of championing women’s rights around the world and has rightly continued to prioritise women and girls in its international development and foreign policy. UK Aid has helped 5.3 million girls go to school, 3 million women improve their land and property rights and saved the lives of 103,000 women during childbirth. This makes me incredibly proud to be British.
As the Secretary of State Penny for International Development Mordaunt MP rightly says ‘Without women’s rights, there are no human rights’. That’s why following International Women’s Day I won’t stop marching until all women and girls around the world receive equal rights, opportunities and life chances. When we empower women and girls great things happen.
Theo Clarke is a member of The Centenary Action Group which brings together over 70 women’s organisations, political parties, key individuals and action groups to campaign for the Centenary, of the first women being legally allowed to vote in the UK, to help deliver real change for women in the UK and worldwide.