International Women’s Day, held on 8 March, marks a celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements of women.
Every person – women, men and non-binary people – can play a part in helping drive better outcomes for women. Through meaningful celebration and targeted bold action, we can all be responsive and responsible leaders in creating a more gender inclusive world.
The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. This is too long to wait. So around the world, International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity for ground breaking action that can truly drive greater change for women.
This year, the 2017 Spring Budget falls on International Women’s Day, but women won’t have much to celebrate under this government.
Never have we needed a Labour government more. Both at home and internationally we are seeing a worrying erosion of women’s rights and freedoms.
Labour has a strong record on advancing women’s rights and freedoms that we can be proud of. Almost every major piece of legislation that has improved the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour Government. They brought in the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, The Equality Act, the minimum wage and introduced Surestart.
A woman I would like to pay tribute to today is Ruth Dodds.
Ruth was born on 8 May 1890 in Gateshead and attended Gateshead High School for Girls. Ruth wrote a number of plays reflecting her historical and political interests, including The Pitman’s Pay, about Thomas Hepburn, the miners’ union pioneer. Ruth was Secretary of the Gateshead branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and became more politically active around 1915.
During the War she started work in her family’s printing business on Newcastle Quayside until a disagreement with her brother in 1926 regarding the General Strike led her to leave the business.
After the War Ruth Dodds joined the Labour Party and her involvement in local politics grew. She served on a number of Gateshead Council committees as a co-opted member and in 1925 took over as editor of the monthly newspaper, Gateshead Labour News (later renamed the Gateshead Herald). In 1929 she was elected as a Labour councillor and retained this position for most of the next decade. Wider political ambitions, however, were not fulfilled as she failed to gain selection as Parliamentary candidate for Gateshead in 1931 or 1936.
Ruth found herself as one of thousands of North East women who worked long shifts in the region’s munitions factories. In her diaries she records observations on her working life at Armstrong’s armaments factory in Newcastle, and also her feelings about the war.
“I hate war and I hate killing and yet I am right to make munitions. I thought once that I could not, but since then I have changed my mind. And our men write saying that every shell helps to save their lives.
“I admire the German women who are working day and night for their men, and shall I not imitate what I admire? I cannot stop the war by holding back, but I and my like may shorten this war by working.
“And I cannot escape blood-guiltiness by sitting at home idle. Thank goodness I have no time for thinking these things when I am actually at work.”
Ruth Dodds’ contribution to her hometown was recognised in 1966 when she became the first woman to be made a Freeman of Gateshead.
Dodds was a pacifist and a Socialist; the last political action of her life was casting a postal vote in the municipal election of May 1972. Ruth was born into a world where women couldn’t even vote and yet she fought her way to become a councillor. Her admirable fight for what she believed in inspired the next generation of female politicians.
While International Women’s Day is about recognising how far we have travelled in the fight for gender equality, we must also recognise how much further we have to go, both in the UK and internationally.
In 2017, women in the UK are more likely to work for less pay than men, in low paid sectors and be disproportionately affected by cuts to public services
Empty words on equality and the occasional cash giveaway will not do. We need structural change, a budget and economy that work for everyone – not just a privileged few.
Under a Labour Government, all economic policies will be gender audited to ensure that we have an economy that works for all.
For International Women’s Day 2017, we’re asking you to #BeBoldForChange.