The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 5th March:
On Monday we celebrate International Women’s Day. Each year people ask if International Women’s Day is still relevant and the answer is that yes, it definitely is. We have come a long way in the last 50 years but there is still a lot of work to do.
During the pandemic, it has been women more than men who have had to put their careers on hold or work long hours juggling the demands of a job alongside home schooling and childcare. The bulk of the childcare responsibilities fell to them when the schools closed, with the Office for National Statistics reporting that women were carrying out on average two-thirds more of the childcare duties per day than men.
This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’. To speak out when faced with discrimination is often difficult but if we all take small steps to challenge where we see inequality then the collective voice would help to forge an inclusive world.
Since being elected as the first female MP for Barnsley East I have championed many causes for women. From speaking in Parliament about the gender pay gap, pushing for better support in the workplace for women who suffer from endometriosis, supporting Barnsley charities, IDAS and the Rape Crisis Centre to speaking to high school girls, encouraging them to pursue their career goals.
I also strive to be a voice for those who would otherwise not be heard. Last year I spoke in Parliament on the Domestic Abuse Bill, highlighting how our justice system lets down domestic abuse survivors while handing abusers the tools and means of exerting control over partners long after they have left.
Tragically, over the course of the various lockdowns, the charity Refuge has reported an increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline saying that although the lockdown itself “does not cause domestic abuse”, the measures can “aggravate pre-existing behaviours in an abusive partner”. I have also challenged the government on the appalling practice of some GPs charging Domestic abuse victims for letters to prove their injuries were indeed caused by abuse. This practice remains appalling and needs government intervention to ensure it stops.
Women have stood at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers and leaders in combating the pandemic. The crisis has highlighted both the importance of their contributions and the disproportionate burdens that women carry.
We have come a long way in the fight for gender parity, but this recent crisis has proven that we, sadly, are still not there yet. International Woman’s Day exists to highlight this fact and bring both women, and men, along in the fight for full equality.