Speech on International Women’s Day Reception
by Sebastian Wood, UK Ambassador to China
08 Mar 2010
International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world on March 8th. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that awaits future generations of women.
This year’s theme is “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all". The UK firmly believes that gender equality is at the heart of development of any society and is committed to fully realising this aim.
China has made a remarkable journey when it comes to gender equality. From looking at the number of successful women in this room, it would be easy to assume that that journey is almost complete. In fact, one might ask, does International Women’s Day hold any relevance anymore? In both the UK and China, women are involved in decision-making processes, they participate in almost all aspects of society, laws exist to protect the rights of women, women own some of the most successful businesses, etc… It is clear gender equality in both our societies has progressed in leaps and bounds but there are still plenty of issues to tackle.
It is evident that barriers still exist for women in the work place. Gender based discrimination still occurs at the most fundamental levels. Discrimination with respect to issues such as wages, recruitment, retirement age, and sexual harassment remains widespread. Domestic violence and rape are still significant problems. The participation of women in government and business is lacking and this is a huge missed opportunity. Thankfully, it is women like those of you here today who prove that despite forms of discrimination, sometimes overt, sometimes unconscious, women’s achievements and contributions to society can not be ignored and that is what we want to celebrate here today.
China and the UK are signatories to CEDAW (Convention to Eliminate All Discrimination Against Women) and but we still have a long way to go to ultimately achieve this goal. I hope that is something we can work together on.
International Women’s Day remains an important reminder of disadvantaged women globally, as well as a marker of women’s progress in society. It presents an opportunity to reflect on the changes still needed in society. As long as the under-representation of women in government, business and policy-making bodies remains, our societies will not realise their full potential. And that is why we are celebrating you. As women in prominent positions you set a precedent for the next generations.
We must not forget that IWD is only one day and what really matters is what happens tomorrow and the day after that.
This day is all about you. It’s about providing inspiration, motivation, connection and opportunity and it’s about recognising your achievements. I am honoured to be in a room full of so many truly remarkable women, and look forward to having the opportunity of meeting all of you.