International Women’s Day is held every year on 8th March to commemorate the social, economic and political gains made by women and to draw attention to the remaining inequalities between men and women, both in the UK and all over the world.
2008 is a particularly important year for women, as it is the centenary of a march involving 15,000 women in New York which led to the first International Women’s Day being held in 1911.
On Wednesday, MPs from all parties gathered at the statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in gardens next to Parliament for a ceremony organised by Barbara. Equality Secretary Harriet Harman laid flowers for the Government before Barbara presented a bouquet on behalf of Women MPs in the Labour Party. Additional bouquets were laid on behalf the other main parties and the House of Lords. The MPs then gathered in the Commons chapel which contains the cupboard where the suffragette Emily Davidson hid overnight in defiance of the authorities, so that she could give the House of Commons as her address for the 1911 Census.
Gordon Brown also welcomed International Women’s Day during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. The following day, Labour MPs gathered for a reception in the Prime Minister's office before deb ates on International Women’s Day were held in both the Commons and the Lords.
After the commemorative events, Barbara, who is Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party committee, said:
“I’m very pleased about the events we held in Parliament to mark International Women’s Day. MPs of all parties have had the chance to pay tribute to the women who have campaigned, suffered and in one case died in the struggle for votes. We also salute all the women who have campaigned over the last 150 years to achieve for equal rights for women in all areas of life. These campaigns continue to this day. With a Labour government the number of women in Parliament more than doubled but there is still a long way to go before women gain equal representation in the British political system.
“Representation was one of many themes covered in the debate in the House of Commons. Others topics included flexible working, equal pay, maternity support women in prison and childcare. The debate, and the other International Women’s Day events that have taken place in Parliament this week, show that we can build on the progress towards equality made in recent years .”