THE BLOG
11/03/2015 13:26 GMT | Updated 11/05/2015 06:59 BST

Challenging the F-word: Don't Ask For Permission to be Equal

Last week whilst speaking on a panel to mark International Women's Day, I was asked by the Telegraph's Women's Editor Emma Barnett whether I considered myself a feminist. I struggled to answer yes which was met with a few raised eyebrows. Here I want to explain why I don't seek to label myself a feminist - and why I believe the catch-all term struggles to capture the equality issues facing women and, in fact, everyone, today.

Feminism, to me, is a term which in many ways captures the struggles of the 60s and 70s. Now, the conversation has moved forward and for me it is a question of equality for everyone that we all need to be talking about. Women shouldn't have to ask politely to be considered equal by men, but to know from the start of their lives that equality is their right as a human being.

The world is growing up and in this new world, the feminism label needs to be reworked. Maybe it is time for a rebrand. The dictionary's definition of feminism - "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes" - is truly what I believe in, but sadly in reality the term feminism makes it an issue that belongs exclusively to women, rather than an issue that is the responsibility of us all. I don't define myself as a feminist or by any other label, but as someone who fights for gender equality.

I'm not just arguing semantics here. We need to face up to the fact that gender equality is still, and will continue to be for a long time yet, a desperately out of reach goal for society. From the BBC's harrowing documentary India's Daughter, to a quick scroll of the Everyday Sexism project, to the shocking statistic that one in four women in the UK is a victim of domestic violence - the gamut of gender inequality and sexism is very much thriving. But it's up to men and women to fix it, and accept that what can appear as a gender exclusive issue is not.

For the next generation of millennials, calling yourself a feminist is just not enough to push change forward, it's about how we effect change. We need to woman up, take the lead from Sheryl Sandberg and actively lean in in the workplace and find our voice. Getting tangled up in whether or not you tick the feminist box is irrelevant. We are all equal and we all need to say this loud and clear. The real questions are: if you're a parent, what are you doing to ensure your child grows up knowing girls deserve to live their lives, just as equally as boys, to the fullest? If you're an employer, what are you doing to promote merit over prejudice in your workplace and push for transparency on equal pay? If you're a lawmaker, what are you doing to bring perpetrators of violence and discrimination against women and men to account? If you're a human being, how are you taking action?

It is imperative men are involved in the conversation from the beginning. I would have loved to have seen a man on the panel last week put forward what he was doing in his workplace to keep gender stereotypes out of the equation. We need men in the discussion and we need to show we're confident enough to open out the debate. Fighting for equality is a straightforward case of human rights. Emma Watson's #HeforShe campaign, launched on the UN stage, calls for men to actively propel the cause forward - and become very much part of this 'uniting movement'. The UN could take a page out of its own book - currently less than 38% of the significant positions are held by women, a figure expected to rise by just 0.4% annually. Sadly that nominal 50% target is a long way off yet.

As we take a moment to reflect on where we're at in the journey towards gender equality, particularly around International Women's Day, it's important to not get bogged down in labels. It's time to stop segregation of the sexes and bring everyone into the conversation about equal rights. Women are smart, organised, united and vocal and we need to lead the platform of a unisex conversation around the rights of people to be treated fairly, respectfully and equally across the world. It's what is needed now and for the future. Equal rights for everyone. How about that?