It may well be the case with you too, but women are the backbone of my family. Strong, assertive and caring women like my mother, my late nana, my wife and – increasingly and especially, my 13 year-old daughter – are the glue that holds the family ties together.
I hope that you were able to recognise the importance and significance of women but especially mothers last Sunday during Mother’s Day.
Going round the supermarket in Hartlepool last weekend, it was fairly obvious from the queues of people near the flowers and cards that most wanted to show how important their mothers are to them, even if other men probably looked a bit like me in being frazzled and confused as to what to actually get.
There was a further opportunity to celebrate the importance of women this week with International Women’s Day. I know some people, usually men, might say well why isn’t there an International Men’s day (although actually there is), but I, as a man, think that a day that recognises the importance of women is vital.
The progress in this country and others in terms of the status and freedom of women – whether that freedom is economic, in terms of having money of their own, social, in terms of being able to do what they want and how they want, and political freedom, in terms of having the vote and being able to become MPs – has been astonishing.
My brother and sister-in-law visited me in Parliament a couple of weeks ago with their daughter and my niece, Gabriella, who is 13-months-old. I showed them the cupboard in St Mary Undercroft, the chapel of the House of Commons, where Emily Wilding Davison, a suffragette who of course was from the North East, hid overnight on the night of the census so that she could say in the 1911 census that her place of residence was “the House of Commons”, thereby increasing publicity for the votes for women campaign.
It was great to see little Gabriella stand in the same place where Emily Davison campaigned to give her, in a few years time, the freedom to vote. I should imagine that Gabriella will find it astonishing that her political opinion and ability to express that opinion through the ballot box was denied to previous generations of women simply on account of their gender.
This is remarkable and, speaking of other countries, it might result in the culmination later this year of the election of the first women president in the United States, Hillary Clinton. That will be a profound and symbolic event.
However there remains strong barriers, both in terms of significant matters, as well as seemingly small, trivial and annoying things, that hold back women in this country.
There remains a gender pay gap, some 40 years after this was meant to have been legalised out of existence. I think it is disgusting that anybody is paid a different rate for doing the same job, and yet women are experiencing this every day. In business, it is still unusual for women to lead big companies, even though there is evidence to suggest there is a link between a female chief executive and improved profitability of a company.
In terms of the biggest businesses in the country, the FTSE 100, there are more bosses called John than there are women in charge. Women in their 50s are being penalised in an unfair way over their pension provisions.
There’s also the issue of gender pricing. Why do razors for women cost on average 50 per cent more than the equivalent for us men? Why does Argos sell a child’s scooter in pink at £5 more than the scooter in blue? And why do sanitary products, hardly a luxury or non-essential for a large part of the population, command VAT at 20 per cent?
There has been remarkable progress over women’s rights, but there is a lot more to do. That is why International Women’s Day is still worth celebrating in this country.