“How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Maya Angelou
This week marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and I was delighted to attend many events throughout the week, as well as hand out a special leaflet I produced in Cardiff North. Women’s Forum members dressed for the part, as you can see!
Every year, March 8th is a great day to commemorate the often unrecognised achievements of women and to assess what we still need to accomplish to make women’s lives better in the UK and throughout the world.
International Women’s Day itself has an interesting history. Debate about the position of women in society led to political awareness and action. In 1908, 15,000 American women marched through New York City to demand better working conditions and voting rights. In 1910, an International Conference of Women in Copenhagen proposed that a day should be observed every year in every country and on this day, we should press for women’s rights and for equality for women.
And so here we are a 100 years later.
And over the last century, there has been a lot of progress. In 1928, all UK women over 21 secured the same voting rights as men and in 1997, a record number of women, mainly Labour, were elected to the House of Commons and I was pleased to be the first woman MP for Cardiff.
In 2003, the Welsh Assembly became the first legislative body in the world to achieve a 50/50 balance between men and women. More women in Westminster and Wales resulted in a string of gains for women, including paid maternity leave, the National Minimum Wage, stronger domestic abuse laws, free bus passes and increased Child Benefit.
But now, some of the things women have gained seem under threat. Politically, things seem more precarious, with cuts to public services and the voluntary sector hitting women harder. Everything now seems more uncertain. With the current Conservative-led government, we seem to be going backwards. I’m determined that this shouldn’t happen and I’m confident that the Welsh Assembly can help to protect women and to stem the tide.
I have campaigned throughout my life for equality for women and if elected to the Welsh Assembly, I hope to be able to continue this work in a body with such a strong record on gender issues.
Let’s end, however, with a tribute to all those extraordinary “ordinary” women who toil away day after day to make sure that elderly parents are looked after and that the children get to school.
These are the women who oil the wheels and keep things going and don’t think that they are doing anything extraordinary at all. International Women’s Day is a great day to salute all of them.
So here’s to all the ordinary extraordinary women — they are all around us. As the writer Carol Shields said, “I don’t believe in ordinary or extraordinary people, unless we are all extraordinary.”
(Part of this post appeared as a letter in Viewpoints in the South Wales Echo on Tuesday, March 8th 2011.)