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This International Women's Day, Let's Not Forget The Reasons To Be Hopeful


If 2016 was a year of great social and political upheaval, will 2017 be the year that women and girls worldwide pay the price?

In recent months, you'd be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. And like me, you will probably spend some of today reading about all the reasons why - from Trump's global gag to the epidemic of sexual harassment in universities.

But in amongst this deeply worrying global context, the year so far has seen a quiet but steady stream of good news too. For me, as we mark International Women's Day today, it's important to draw strength from these rays of light as we steel ourselves for battles ahead.

Let's start in Malawi, where, in a scarcely reported but monumental change, child marriage was outlawed by an historic amendment to the country's constitution voted through on February 14th. In a country where nearly half of girls are married before 18, this is a potentially life-saving change for millions of future Malawian women.

The victory followed a campaign by young Malawian activists, trained by Plan International UK with funding from the UK government's Department for International Development.

Memory, 20, was one of the campaign's leaders. "Our campaign to end child marriage in Malawi started off small. It was a grassroots campaign led by my fellow young campaigners and I who unfortunately know too well the damage child marriage and other acts of violence against girls cause," she explains. "People from all across the world listened to stories of my sister, who at just 11 was forced into marriage."

More than 40,000 people worldwide signed a petition of solidarity with the Malawian campaigners, which Memory presented to the First Lady of Malawi last summer. Just a few months later, the young women activists of Malawi secured a victory a Pankhurst would be proud of.

Closer to home, women and girls have also had cause to celebrate legislative change. Last week, the government confirmed its backing for an overhaul of the dated curriculum of 'sex education' in England. And not a moment too soon.

Research by Plan International UK has shown a doubling of reported sexual offences in schools in recent years; the revamped package of sex and relationships education will help to tackle this urgent challenge.

As another young Plan International campaigner, Arifa, 19, tells me, "If children are going to be taught about the mechanics of sex, we need to educate them on issues such as consent, grooming and the dangers of technology too."

What especially inspires me about these two victories is that both respond to the demands of girls and young women themselves. These are examples of politicians actually listening to young women, a group all too often forgotten.

The challenges still faced by women and girls are immense. But my feeling this year is that if those in power can do a little more listening, especially to young people, we may see more progress yet. Twice as many young Brits call themselves feminist than those of their parents' generation. Change isn't linear, but it will come.

To support Plan International UK's new campaign to improve sexual and reproductive health services in Uganda, please visit

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email

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