Ploughing up the hard ground

A post for International Women’s Day…

It’s late and I’m tired and fighting a cold, and I probably should be trotting off to bed instead of sitting down at the computer, but I couldn’t let International Women’s Day pass without putting a few thoughts down on paper (or screen).

As the Mum of two small girls, I’m constantly amazed – and secretly super-happy – when they surprise me with their enlightened 8- and 10-year old views on the world, especially when they seem to be at odds with that which I have grown up accepting to be true or have experienced first hand.

Like the fact that they can’t quite believe that girls weren’t allowed to play in certain sports teams when I was at school (“What’s a ‘boy’s sport’ anyway? That’s just stupid!”), or that we weren’t even allowed onto one of the two school playgrounds because it was a designated boy’s football playground (offence punishable by standing facing the wall for the rest of break time. I kid you not.)

Or that I had to even explain the reason I admired Kate Adie so much it played a part in the naming of my firstborn (because she was a ground breaking female journalist, ballsy and unafraid, going where women had not been before. Of course.)

These things are not as remarkable to them as they were to me, because, although the world is not yet fully equal, not fully equitable when it comes to access to fair pay, rights and opportunities, it is worth acknowledging today, on International Women’s Day, that we have indeed made progress, at least here in the UK.

And I am pleased. Pleased they are so incredulous that such inequity once existed that it seems absurd to them. Pleased that their hopes and dreams and aspirations will, as a result, be so much higher and more free. And I am grateful for the women that have gone before – like Ms Adie, giver-of-name to my very own tenacious and bright-eyed Kate –  who have ploughed that hard ground, and cleared the way for a whole new generation of journalists able to tell the world’s stories independent of what sex they were born.

Today, those women and those stories are worth remembering particularly. By those of us that are old enough to remember first-hand how hard-fought those freedoms were, and to those who are too young to know. Not so that we can be militant or anti-men or all chip-on-the-shoulder about it, but so that we can have respect and admiration for them and fully value the opportunities we now have as a result. Because as Thomas Paine said,

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”

Challenges remain in our society for sure, not least of all a deeply ingrained sexism that still values a woman by her appearance and a man for his achievements, but still (as my 10 year old would say). We have a lot, and we need to remember that, whilst making sure we encourage and inspire our young women to remember those that have gone before them and use their stories of courage and fortitude to do great things in their own lives.

And so that we can inspire and encourage each other – male and female – to keep fighting where there is still injustice. For women in other countries around the world where it is not OK for a woman to vote, to go to school, to work, to own land or property, to be respected as an individual and have equity of access to opportunity. Where women are still ploughing that hard ground, risking their reputations, their lives even, to make a way behind them for a more equitable world.

On International Women’s Day, we salute you all. May we have the mindfulness to remember your stories and hard-won freedoms, the courage to continue to fight with you when you need us, and the perspicacity to inspire the next generation to embrace all that lies before them with enthusiasm, bravery and gratitude.