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Truly Equal, Hey? International Women's Day - 8th March

I remember, when I was involved in a drama project at a British women's prison, being quite shocked by the fact that, more often than not, when a woman enters prison, her whole support network disintegrates...

International Women's Day, on 8 March, is a celebration of the huge successes and achievements by women in the social, political and economical arenas - of which there have been many!

As well as this, International Women's Day offers us all a space to examine and reflect on the intense struggles that countless women around the world are forced to endure - and there are many of those, too.

Starting off a socialist movement in America during the early 1900s, International Women's Day has since grown and is now universally regarded as a platform for raising awareness about the serious issues in need of addressing.

Each year, scores of government bodies, organisations and charities, appropriate a theme, depending on the issue they want to raise.

For instance, the United Nation's theme for 2013 is: "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women", and the International Women's Day website has officially themed 2013 as, "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum"; the day means different things to different people.

Some countries, such as Russia, Armenia, and Vietnam, mark the occasion with a public holiday to celebrate all women in society: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, friends, colleagues etc. In others, the day is synonymous with feminist protest and demonstration, such as in Poland.

Here in the UK, Oxfam notably encourage women to 'Get Together' to celebrate each other and to raise money to help women struggling to break even. The Oxfam website states that they "are working towards a world where everyone has enough to eat and where women especially have the opportunity to earn a decent living'.

Oxfam estimate that 70% of those living in poverty are women and the current global economic downturn is hitting women hard, particularly those who are in casual or part-time work, because it is this type of job that is the first to go.

Furthermore, often with children's mouths to feed, women end up going without when household budgets tighten, and this is happening across the globe, even in so-called 'affluent' countries.

It obviously goes without saying that men are important too, but the 8th March is all about remembering just how crucial it is to enable women to look after themselves, for their own sakes, as well as for any children.

The focus acts as a reminder of how these opportunities have a truly lasting impact on the lives of many, many people, both within families and the wider community.

I remember, when I was involved in a drama project at a British women's prison, being quite shocked by the fact that, more often than not, when a woman enters prison, her whole support network disintegrates: it's certainly more common than with her male counterpart. This is because, usually (in heterosexual couples, at least), the woman on the outside holds the fort - keeping the family together. But when it is a woman that enters prison, children often go into care; certainly if there isn't anyone else around to look after them.

Referring back to the UN's theme: "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women", the shocking truth is that an estimated 70% of women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, and around 603 million women around the world still live in a country that does not regard domestic violence to be a criminal offence.

Violence against women is a very real and pressing issue in many countries, even in the UK: where there are campaigns such as End Violence Against Women (EVAW). EVAW estimate that as many as three million women in the UK experience violence every year.

Disgusting, but hardly surprising when we're discussing the removal of T-shirts that glorify domestic violence with slogans such as: "Keep calm and rape her", from the UK market, and are still only toying with the idea that perhaps it isn't a great idea to have near-naked young women (some would say girls) in supposed 'family' newspapers: it's known that objectification and violence are somewhat related.

Clearly, there is a long way to go until violence against women stops and true equality is real.

I mentioned before that the 2013 theme for the website is "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum".

It's fair to say that there have certainly been some huge achievements by womankind over the years: striving for equality. All this, of course, made possible by the magnificent women, and men, who fought for the liberties that maybe we take for granted, such as the right to vote.

A Netmums survey in 2012 found that many young women today feel 'the battle has been won for women', with only 9 per cent of 25 - 29 years-olds identifying with 'feminism'. At the time, this was met with some controversy because it opened up the questions: What is feminism? What is there left to do?

As well as this, the figures were confused and conflicting; another statistic from the same survey found that 70 per cent of women felt that there is too much expected of women today and that they have too many roles to play (hot lover, loving mother, assertive business woman etc.) and proud feminists stressed how this only demonstrated the very real and ingrained patriarchy still present in our society.

Yes, there have never before been so many women in our boardrooms, and women have never had such legislative equality - these accomplishments could certainly sway us to think that women have gained true equality.

Unfortunately, though, women are still not receiving equal pay, nor are they present in equal numbers in business or politics, and, internationally, women's education, health, and access to opportunity, not to mention the violence against them, is much, much worse than it is for men.

So whilst there is a great deal to celebrate, this International Women's Day demands that we all take a look at the issues of violence and equality, and try to identify how our communities either support or hinder progress.

We need to build on our strengths and tackle the weaknesses.

Ultimately, International Women's Day calls us to determine what sort of world we want our daughters to grow up in.

After all, every child deserves to be safe and to able to chase their dreams, no matter what their gender.

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