Young Fabian women will be particularly pleased that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day which we’re marking this week is “Connecting girls, Inspiring Futures”. It’s good to see this focus on the role and potential of young women.
Young women today make a huge contribution to our society. I’m immensely impressed at their achievements, their ambitions, and their concern for their sisters around the world. Just a few weeks ago, for example, young women from Flixton Girls High School in my own constituency visited parliament to talk to me about their participation in the “Send my Sister to School” campaign. Young women from my constituency ably represent their peers in the Youth Parliament and in the local youth cabinet. Young women are active in local community groups, getting involved in a host of projects and campaigns that cut right across the generations. They work hard, speak out about what they care about, and are a great asset to our community.
When I see how much young people put in, I’m all the more determined that they should get a fair deal from society. It’s why I believe young women (and men) should have a voice in our voting system – I’m a strong supporter of votes at 16, combined with good quality citizenship education in our schools. But it’s also why I want every young woman to be able to fulfil her potential, make the most of her education, go on to get the job she wants, have the relationship she wants, form a family if and when she chooses, and enjoy every aspect of her life.
It worries me that, under this government, women’s choices are going backwards. Disproportionate cuts to services women rely on, including services for women fleeing violence and abuse; jobs that women excel at and are able to progress in being hardest hit by the Government; axing the education maintenance allowance and imposing a huge hike in student fees; increasing childcare costs with decreasing support (and worrying reports about the future of Care to Learn that enables young mums to carry on with their education) ; reductions in street lighting that make our communities feel less safe and take no account of the impact on young women, who are deterred from going out and about; attempts to make it more complicated to access abortion services – all these are limiting the chances, freedom and opportunities of young women.
But I’m really heartened by the number of young women who want to be involved in the fightback, proud to call themselves feminists, organising and campaigning on everything. From Laura Nelson’s brilliant campaign to stop Hamleys from separating girls’ toys and boys’ toys, to the Manchester women who stood vigil to protest at violence against women on a freezing cold Friday evening, to student protests about education cuts and fee increases, we’re certainly hearing young women’s voices.
I’m proud to work and campaign with so many dynamic, determined, principled young women. You inspire, enthuse and energise me, and I truly appreciate your friendship. Today, this special day for all women to celebrate, everywhere, let me take the opportunity to wish a Happy International Women’s Day to you all.