Today is International Women’s Day. Why? Well, you can read all about its origins here but in a nutshell, it began to be observed in the early 1900s as women demanded shorter hours, better pay, voting rights and equality with men. Today, on March 8 and throughout the month, events around the world celebrate the achievements of women and girls and highlight the many areas where inequality remains.
To quote from the International Women’s Day website: “The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.”
There are 428 events in the UK this month to celebrate International Women’s Day and if you check the Internet today, you’ll find countless column inches dedicated to the cause. On The Huffington Post home page alone, there are blogs by Cherie Blair and David Cameron, amongst many others. Cherie Blair will also be speaking at an event later today at the Southbank Centre, part of the Women of the World festival that runs until Sunday. I’m looking forward to hearing her talk about mentoring – something close to my heart. I’m also excited to be taking part in the festival this year, as a panelist on Saturday on Body Politics, and I expect I’ll be there on Friday and Sunday too to listen to an array of fabulous female speakers, including Ruby Wax, Susie Orbach and Annie Lennox. That’s on top of two other women’s events I plan on attending today, followed by dinner with some great female friends this evening. If it were possible to overdose on inspiring women’s events (which, as a woman, I don’t think it is), I might be in danger of doing so by the end of this weekend.
But you might be wondering if I have a point to make on International Women’s Day. If I’m going to blog about violence against women, access to education in the developing world, pay discrepancies or the lack of representation of women in the upper echelons of business and politics. I feel passionately about all these causes. I’ve met women in Mozambique, in Haiti and in the UK who’ve suffered rape and violence. I’ve talked to and written about the women and girls in Africa and other parts of the developing world who don’t have access to education or healthcare. And during the six years I worked as a journalist in parliament, the under-representation of women, as well as the lack of ethnic diversity, were glaringly obvious. I also know from my own experience that many women struggle to demand their rights in the workplace, from equal pay to promotion, and that those who shout louder – generally the men – get what they want. Fortunately, I also know this can change and that we can teach ourselves to speak up for what we need.
But I’ve decided there are plenty of other people out there today writing about all these important and pressing topics, from Cherie Blair to David Cameron to Lynn Forester de Rothschild.
So instead, I’m going to write a brief Ode to woman, because today, as I stop and think about it, I love being a woman. I love the way I can talk to my girlfriends about anything and everything. I love the way we pour out our feelings to each other, support each other, cry on each other’s shoulder, hold hands to offer support or give big, long hugs when one of us is hurting. (Men – please don’t feel excluded, I know many of you can do all this too but I’m writing as a woman about women today!). I love our softness and gentleness but also our courage, boldness and resilience. I love our beauty, our elegance and our style. And I especially love how we laugh together.
A few weeks ago, I was stopped on my Vespa at a traffic light near Covent Garden and a number of women – obviously out on the town – were trying to cross the road. I say trying as they were stuck in that ‘should we cross, should we wait for the green man’ no man’s land – half of the group a few steps into the road and the other half on the pavement. As the lights changed, some decided to run, others decided to stay but all, in unison, shrieked and laughed as they tottered on their high heels to the other side of the road or retreated to the safe haven of the pavement they’d just left. I can’t explain why – was it the shrieks, the high-pitched giggles, the shouts of “run … no stay … no run” or the totally impractical footwear? – but in that moment I was reminded why I love being a woman (and I hardly ever wear high heels).
I was reminded again last week when I and a few other girlfriends went round to help a friend settle into her new home. We ate take-away curry, drank bucks fizz (I had a quarter of a glass), shared stories of men, work, food, bodies, loneliness, friendship and family. And we laughed and giggled. Sometimes, living on my own in London, I can feel lonely. But I only have to think about all my amazing female friends in this city, around the country and around the world and I no longer feel alone. In fact, I feel completely connected and totally surrounded by love and laughter.
And when I’m in that space, what I wrote in my last post, about striving to be thin and that silly competition we sometimes have with each other to see who can be the skinniest seems just that: silly. On reflection, I’ve realised that idea of wanting to be thinner than the rest is my first, almost automatic thought – it comes from a place of insecurity and has its roots in the eating disorder that, one day at a time, is part of my past. I don’t have to act on those first thoughts or indulge them by giving them any head space. I can smile at them and recognise them as remnants of my former self that are no longer useful or relevant to who I am.
In fact, my true sentiment towards other women is more along the lines of something I read in The Guardian’s G2 section the other day, written by Kathy Lette: “Women are each other’s human Wonderbras – uplifting, supportive and making each other look bigger and better.”
So that’s my somewhat sentimental, warm and fuzzy take on International Women’s Day. I love being part of the sisterhood and look forward to celebrating it with you all over the next few days.