Do your bit to ensure future for girls is safe, equal and rewarding
NEXT Friday, March 8, it is International Women's Day (IWD) and just before Christmas I was elected the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on United Nations Women, succeeding Harriet Harman.
Annually on this day, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements.
A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, Government activities and networking events through to local women's craft markets, theatrical performances, fashion parades and more.
I will be hosting a special reception to mark this occasion at the Speaker's House in the Palace of Westminster. The special guest speaker will be women's rights activist Jasvinder Sanghera, from Derby, who founded the Karma Nirvana charity.
IWD is now an official holiday in about 30 countries including Afghanistan, China, Russia and Uganda, to name a few examples and men take this opportunity to honour their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts.
The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality. Many, perhaps from a younger generation, feel that "all the battles have been won for women" but some of us know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy.
With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights and an increased critical mass of women's visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality.
The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally in comparison to their male counterparts, women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and I know from my Parliamentary work on International Development that globally women's education, health and violence against them is worse than that of men.
Just last weekend, a report entitled Sex And Power: Who Runs Britain? claimed Britain lay in 60th place out of 190 countries in female representation in the democratic system, a startling drop from 33rd in 2001.
However, great improvements have been made throughout the world. We have female astronauts and world leaders.
Globally, more girls are in education than ever before and in developing countries work is being undertaken to empower women to ensure they can work, have a family and make real choices.
Here in the UK, I don't think we do enough to celebrate IWD. Therefore, I urge you to do something to mark the day – whether you're a women or a man!
Everyone can make a difference, think globally and act locally! Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.