Laura Haynes, Chair of UN Women National Committee UK: Every time I was told 'no' as a girl it made me more determined to change the world8 March 2017 | 15:31 | The Telegraph
This rude awakening happened when I was still in school in the US.
For reasons still unknown to me, I wanted to take a woodworking class. I don’t know why, but I just did. Imagine my surprise when I was told that “girls don’t take woodworking, they take home economics.”
There was no reason given; that’s just how it was. Like one of those unshakeable laws of physics. You know, the first law of thermodynamics that says energy cannot be created and the second - that girls don’t take woodwork.
Thankfully, my father didn’t believe this and marched me back to school. After numerous conversations about strength, health, safety - and the risk of me distracting the boys - they had to give in. And now, thanks to that little bit of determination, all girls in my home state of New York have a choice.
I still can’t sew, but luckily my husband was a boy scout and he does all the buttons in our family.
As Chair of UN Women National Committee in the UK, I often look around me and think: have things changed? How many girls move from A-level science into roles in engineering? How many become CEOs of FTSE 100 companies? And how many talented women, after having a break from senior positions to start a family, return to work and feel confident that their careers can continue to progress?
Answer to all: not enough.
I view the International Women’s Day as a chance to celebrate progress towards gender equality. This is now a mainstream concern with boardrooms engaged in the debate of how to achieve parity in the workplace, a government that is demanding pay transparency and educational institutions encouraging women and girls into professions previously denied to them.
So far so good. And yet, I worry that these important moves towards equality are not recognised as just that, steps along the journey, as surely no one could believe that they are the end of the story.
No we are not “there” yet. There is no time for complacency. We need to take a hard look at how much more there is to do. Women are still not equal, they are not free from fear of violence and they are still suffering from stereotypes that should no longer exist.
We know that support for gender equality is growing every year and that this is a conversation whose time has come - almost 5 million women recently marched in cities around the world in its name.
But how do we maintain momentum?
I believe that the next challenge is how to continue to move from diversity to inclusivity, to change the status quo and to create the new normal - one that is not only better for women, but is recognised as better for all of us.
We have set bold, measurable targets with the UN Sustainable Development Goals - targets that aim to transform our world by 2030 - and thankfully most people recognise these as important. Goal 5 is to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ - the challenge now is to make sure this is everyone’s target.
This means companies pushing through groundbreaking strategies in diversity and parity; commitments from the public sector to continue to build the structures we need to protect and empower women; and young people in schools and universities creating a new conversation around gender and inclusivity.
The UN's HeForShe movement, launched by Emma Watson in September 2014 has shown us how important it is to bring people together to contribute to a new shared vision of a more equal world. A world where people have real choice about how to work, how to learn and how to live.
The movement has captured people’s imagination, and this week we are launching HeForShe Arts Week London to continue on the next step of our journey. The arts have always been a place where difficult topics can be discussed, creative solutions sought and the first stirrings of change to culture found.
Although even here, we sadly debate credentials for feminism – as if all feminists were the same. They are not - just as all women are not the same. But all women deserve to be equal to all men - whatever their differences. As Emma Watson recently said, feminism is not a stick with which to beat women.
At the March4Women last weekend, London mayor Sadiq Khan said that if we achieve gender equality we all benefit. It is not just good for women, it is necessary, and it is good for all of us. Not just in London, in every city, town and village in this country and around the world.
We hope that HeForShe Arts Week London will be a chance for us all to take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what can I do to change the world? Even if the answer is something as small as woodwork.
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