International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March was celebrated across the country. The sad fact is that there is still gender inequality in Britain today. Nearly 1 in 2 British women have experienced either physical or sexual violence since they were 15-years-old. Britain ranks among the worst countries in Europe when it comes to women being violently abused.
The gender pay gap stands at 15%, with women on average earning £5,000 less a year than their male colleagues. The disparity is even greater in part time jobs, going up to 35 per cent. Amazingly, if the skills and qualifications of women who are currently out of work in the UK were fully utilised, the UK could deliver economic benefits of £15 to £21 billion pounds per year – more than double the value of all our annual exports to China.
In addition, Commons Library research published this weekend shows that George Osborne’s tax and benefit policies have hit women nearly four times harder than men, since 2010.
First stop on Saturday was the Indian Association Oldham to meet with the women in faith group who held an afternoon of celebrations to mark International Women’s Day, which included workshops, dancing, handi craft work and displays. The group comprises of local women from different faiths who meet to share experiences, often at the knit and natter sessions! I was pleased to be able to say a few words about the importance of women supporting each other and being confident. I also mentioned the work I am doing to combat domestic violence and sexual exploitation locally.
I then moved onto the Labour Women’s Forum event at Gallery Oldham on the theme of ‘women who dare’. Dozens of local women (and some men!) attended to discuss how we should tackle gender inequalities and to celebrate the innovative projects taking place across the area. I was delighted to be able to speak, alongside local Councillors, and organisations who covered a wide range of issues: from the ACCT project in Alt; to the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who campaigns on girls’ education and was shot by the Taliban; to the need for local women to get involved in politics.
On Sunday afternoon, I was asked to speak at an event organised by the Saddleworth Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund, in Uppermill, to raise money to enable women in Gaza to access higher education; to celebrate International Women’s Day and Palestinian women’s creativity and hospitality; and to raise awareness of the issues facing people, especially women, living in Gaza and the West Bank. I visited the West Bank in 2012 – you can read my report from the visit here. The event was very well attended and over £650 was raised for the Scholarship Fund.