Saturday was International Women's Day. Having shared my views on the day in a national newspaper, I was prepared for a debate. The article in question contained a balanced mix of views that ranged from 'it's patronising and pointless' to 'it's essential; we need to shout together to be heard' (my view). The debate that raged both on- and off-line was less balanced. In fact, I received so many challenges from doubters of IWD that I have collated them here, along with my answers. (Yes, this may well lead to more debate. Bring it on.)
Why do we still need International Women's Day?
Because we still have a massive problem that needs to be addressed. Women are under-represented, under-paid, unheard and in some cases persecuted in many parts of the world. IWD is about raising awareness of these issues and - more importantly - showing that change is possible. It's not about moaning or ranting; it's about empowering men and women to challenge the status quo.
How will a single day help to empower women?
The day is a catalyst; it's an opportunity for all the thousands of organisations in different time zones, with different goals in the fight for equality, to come together and make a noise simultaneously so that they can be heard. IWD provides a single, powerful united front against sexism and misogyny everywhere. The idea is that after IWD, there will be more people aware of the problems we still face, and - critically - more people willing and equipped to effect change.
We need to make sure that our girls grow up in a society that is more equal than ours. The last few years have brought awareness of the issues into the mainstream. Projects like #EverydaySexism, Malala Day and Fahma Mohamed's FGM campaign have opened people's eyes to the extent of the problems, so now it's time to do something about them. 'Inspiring change' - the theme of this year's IWD - is about empowering ordinary people, particularly girls and teenagers who are our next generation of women, to call out inequality and to do something about it.
What's the problem? Women have equal rights, don't they?
Er, no. We don't. There are so many examples I could give to highlight the inequality that persists in our society, but let me keep it short by touching on some of the main issues in the different parts of our globe. In the developed world, the biggest challenges - and those which will have the greatest impact when overcome - are equality in business, politics and the media. The imbalance is self-perpetuating and we need to break the vicious cycle of male-dominated boardrooms, cabinets and press. Objectification of women and gender-based stereotyping are big problems too. In the developing world and, sadly, in some parts of the developed world, we still have a long way to go in changing the perception of women and in particular, women's bodies. This manifests itself in many horrific ways, FGM being just one. These are massive global issues, but I do believe change is possible, as many organisations have proved. I just hope that IWD provides a boost to all those who are making this happen.
What sort of changes are we talking about, anyway?
I qualified as an engineer and was the only female in my year group of sixteen. We need more girls doing sciences. In my short career in finance, I was the only female executive in a team of 21 and I was all too aware of the glass ceiling above me. We need more women in powerful positions in big business. The research for my latest novel, Feral Youth, took me into a world of deprivation in south London and I saw first-hand, through working with charities like Beleve UK, the effects that poor educational support, domestic violence and more recently, austerity measures have had on women living in poverty. I hope that IWD will plant the seeds to eradicate these issues.
We already have a great network of organisations and individuals working to achieve this through educational, vocational and mentoring schemes, but more support is needed - both financial and on the ground. We need more men to get involved too, as these are problems that affect us all. Things won't happen overnight, but I believe that change is possible.
Polly Courtney is author of Golden Handcuffs, a novel based on her experience in investment banking, It's a Man's World, an exploration of 'lads' mag' culture and other books that tackle inequality in its various forms.