By Annie Lennox
So you think there’s no need in 2015 for feminism or to campaign for equal rights for women? Then please take a moment to consider the following facts:
• Women account for two-thirds of all working hours and produce half the world’s food, but earn only 10% of global income and own 1% of property.
• Though women make up half the global population, they represent 70% of the world’s poor.
• Women and girls aged 15–44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents.
• At least one in three women around the world have been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in their lifetime.
• Between 1.5 million and 3 million girls and women die each year because of gender-based violence.
• Between 700,000 and 4 million girls and women are sold into prostitution each year.
• 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with women dying of pregnancy-related causes at the rate of one a minute.
• Women account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s 780 million people who cannot read.
• 41 million girls worldwide are still denied a primary education.
• Globally, only one in five parliamentarians are women.
This appalling list of gender inequity and injustice could go on, but by now you might have read enough to be convinced that there are several compelling reasons to acknowledge and support the empowerment of women and girls.
Imagine a world where every female can actually realise her right to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work. For me, these are the essential goals of feminism; and ultimately the reason why men and boys must come on board to achieve this vision with us.
From a personal perspective, I am keenly aware of the benefits I’ve received from the generations of women before me. We have all inherited the freedom, privileges and rights our great-grandmothers could only have dreamed of and I am indebted to the sacrifice and dedication of the suffragette movement, whose tireless work ensured that future generations of women could vote and have better lives and opportunities.
Over the past few years there has been a definite shift in awareness concerning the infinite challenges still facing women at every level. In the UK, until recently, women’s magazines generally wouldn’t touch feminism, as it was deemed to be passé and uncomfortable, almost needing to be whispered apologetically and avoided.
Just a couple of months ago across British news stands, the f-word took pride of place in the bold headlines of four glossy magazine covers. A minor victory perhaps, but a definite indication of a change in attitudes.
While I feel encouraged by this rising interest in the usage of the word feminism, I also realise that talk is cheap. It can be divisive and polarising, diverting us from the real issues at hand. Action is what is required, whether it be educational, societal, political or personal. We need to become the change we want to see, by participation and action. Everyone can take responsibility and have a part to play when it comes to emancipation, empowerment and transformation.
International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March will be a day of global solidarity, with thousands of events taking place around the world to inspire and celebrate women’s achievements, including political rallies, business conferences, government activities, performances, debates, workshops and much more. The day also serves to remind us of the multitude of inequalities that still need to be addressed, giving participants and contributors a special opportunity to amplify our platform and messaging.
Marking it in London, the Women of the World festival – where I am appearing today – will offer a wide-ranging and exciting programme, from stimulating dialogue to inspirational performances. Join us and become part of the movement.
(Originally published in The Guardian).