Last Sunday, I joined this year’s ‘March4Women’ in London: the annual event from CARE International UK to mark International Women’s Day. Each year on 8 March, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on women’s rights and gender equality around the world. Despite warnings of snow and the ‘Beast from the East’, 7,000 other people, both men and women, braved the weather to retrace the route of the Suffragettes from the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square.
Campaigners at this year's March4Women walking from Westminster to Trafalgar Square. Photo Credit: CARE International UK
An inspiring line up of musicians and speakers, including Helen Pankhurst, Sadiq Khan, Michael Sheen and other advocates for gender equality addressed the crowd in Trafalgar Square. 2018 marks 100 years since some women gained the right to vote, and we celebrated the progress that has been made towards gender equality in recent years, while acknowledging how much there is still to do. Other recent high profile campaigns, such as ‘#MeToo’ and ‘Time’s Up’, have put gender firmly on the agenda for 2018.
Gender equality encompasses so many different important issues; it’s equal pay for men and women in all industries; it’s an end to discrimination, sexual harassment and violence; it’s proportional representation in Parliament; it’s education for all; it’s access to sexual and reproductive health; it’s the poorest girl having the same voice and rights as the richest and most powerful man – the list goes on! Women and girls already have a voice, but they need to feel empowered to use it.
As someone whose day job is to support others to take action on international development campaigns, March4Women was a welcome reminder to me of what it feels like to participate in a campaign myself and be part of a wider movement. It can feel strange to take a step back and be a campaigner again, as most days I support others to use their voice, but on this day I used my own voice to make change. Marches are a distinct form of campaigning that is a contrast to taking individual action, such as writing a letter to my MP, but a good reminder of how powerful a large group of people, regardless of beliefs, race or background, can be when they come together.
March4Women culminated with an inspiring speech by Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, both prominent leaders in the British Suffragette movement. She said many people will have thought, “When are those Pankhurst women just going to go away?” I think her answer is relevant to everyone who identifies as a campaigner or advocate as, whatever the issue and whoever the audience, we’ll only stop when the job is done.