We should stand by the women at the heart of growth

From House to Home with Amber Rudd SUS-151103-114637001
From House to Home with Amber Rudd SUS-151103-114637001

There are now more women in work than ever before – and they stand at the heart of this country’s economic growth.

Let me start with a quotation by Charlotte Bronte, given to me by my daughter:

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed….”

International Women’s Day matters to me personally. I am the very proud mother of a 24-year-old daughter and I would not change that for a moment. By coming together to mark International Women’s Day 2015, we make our voices louder: celebrating the achievements of women everywhere in education, business, politics and wider society and pushing for global action to secure these same opportunities for millions more girls and women.

International Women’s Day is also important to many influential girls and women across the globe- Angelina Jolie, Malala Yousafzai, Fahma Mohamed and Emma Watson are just a few of those who are standing up and speaking out for gender equality around the world.

They want what everyone, male or female, deserves – the right to a good quality education; and the chance to live your life without fear, discrimination or violence.

A century ago, women were barely allowed to vote, let alone stand for election. Today women hold seats in parliaments across the world. I know that there are far too few women attracted to politics. Far too many women are put off by the language of politics: by the vitriol; by the polemic. However, since becoming the second female MP for Hastings and Rye nearly five years ago, I’m proud to be part of the most diverse Parliament so far - currently 22.7% of MPs and 21.7% of peers are female.

Over recent years, as the number of female MPs has grown and grown, we’ve seen a range of new policies on flexible working with a system of shared parental leave from this year, stronger equality legislation and critical action on violence against women with investment and support to stop female genital mutilation both at home and abroad.

I’m incredibly proud that the gender pay gap for women under 40 working full-time has recently been eliminated. In fact there was coverage recently that actually for the under 40s, women are earning more than men.

Women are also being supported to stand for Parliament through initiatives such as Women2Win and Emily’s List. And today in Hastings and Rye 22% of our Council members are women and our elected Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, does a fantastic job. But it’s not just in the political arena that women are breaking new ground. They’re also making their mark in the world of business.

Today, there are more women working in this country than ever before- 14.4 million, an increase of 839,000 under this Conservative Government. More of these women are working full-time than ever before. And there are more women represented at higher levels of management.

For the first time, we now have a woman on the board of every FTSE 100 company. And under this Government the difference in weekly pay between men and women in Hastings and Rye has gone down significantly.

But we mustn’t let the momentum slow down. If the UK had the same female start-up business rate as the US there would be 600,000 more start ups in the UK which would add £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030! Therefore we must ensure that we break down the remaining barriers preventing women from reaching their full potential in the workplace.

Yes, in material terms, we need to make sure that women are being rewarded equally for their hard work.

There simply cannot be any excuses for paying anyone less because of their background or their gender. But just as important is a change in culture. Pay women as much as you like, but if they don’t feel comfortable in the working environment, we have only fixed half the problem.

Finally I would like to say that women’s issues are men’s issues. And I say that because I think, for example, that when people talk about the work we’re doing to combat domestic violence against women, that should be something which makes men just as angry and frankly as ashamed as it does amongst women.

I think it’s a wonderful thing that we are celebrating International Women’s Day, but we will do women a disservice if we do not all take responsibility for it.

Together, we can make the difference by ensuring that everyone, whatever their gender or circumstances, can achieve their dreams.

PS: The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Make It Happen’.

So I would like to encourage all residents to help: whether through campaigning, fundraising or inspiring others to get involved: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/