A message to my daughter for International Women’s Day
As I put my six-year-old daughter to bed last night, she asked me what International Women’s Day was.
She had heard me speaking to my husband about how I would be home late a few nights this week because I am going to International Women’s Day events and was understandably wondering what it was all about.
I thought about it for a few minutes and then explained that it was a day where we celebrated the achievements of women but also made sure we defended the rights of women in our country and internationally.
As I tried to explain in child-friendly language why this day was important, I started reflecting on why International Women’s Day this year felt more pertinent than ever.
Is it because I recently hit the milestone age of 40 and realised that I had been campaigning on the same issues for over 20 years now? It’s 2023 and yet rape convictions are at an all-time low, with only one in 40 investigations into adult rapes leading to a criminal charge. The gender pay gap in the UK is still 15 per cent, rising to 26 per cent for Black African women and to 31 per cent for Pakistani women. A staggering seven per cent of all women experience domestic violence and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner, more than 90 per cent of whom are male.
It felt like every event I was attending for International Women’s Day was bittersweet. I had a breakfast meeting with the insurance sector to discuss how we can support female talent in FinTech and financial services. I left feeling inspired that some companies are investing to support women in this way, but also a bit dismayed that in this day and age – despite evidence that female founders generate higher returns on investment – less than three per cent of investment goes to them within FinTech globally.
Women still suffer a pay penalty at work when they become mothers
I also attended a reception at Goldman Sachs for senior women leaders in business and finance, where we discussed the importance of an inclusive culture. I felt inspired but I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that in 2023 the proportion of women in FTSE 100 executive roles is still only 17 per cent.
At a roundtable organised by Unicef about the current levels of access to early years support for babies and toddlers across England, I felt similarly conflicted. While we discussed how to tackle the significant regional disparities in accessing these services, and how to support parents coping with the cost of living crisis, I also thought about the evidence which shows that women still suffer a pay penalty at work when they become mothers, as opposed to men who sometimes benefit from a pay bonus when they become fathers.
As I saw my daughter’s eyes drooping off, I thought about matters closer to home. Last week, the formidable Betty Boothroyd died at the age of 93. She was the first and only female speaker of the House of Commons we’ve ever had. Why in the 23 years since she stepped down as speaker haven’t we had another woman in the Chair? Similarly, why still haven’t we reached 50/50 representation of men and women in Parliament?
I whispered to my sleeping daughter that, “By the time you’re my age, the world will be different – more equal, more representative and more fair.” Here’s hoping!
Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn
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