On Tuesday the whole world celebrated International Women’s Day, but what does International Women’s Day mean for me as a man? Is it something I can feel included in or is it just for die hard stereotype feminists?

To test the waters, last weekend I decided to celebrate Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day by attending the Walk in Her Shoes rally in London. Organised by CARE International UK the event aims to create public awareness for women and girls across the developing world who are held back from fulfilling their potential by discrimination and poverty and to build momentum for international gender equality.

Through powerful speeches, poetry, music and comedy performances by a notable panel including Annie Lennox, Bianca Jagger, Leyla Hussein, Bridget Christie, Sofia Sprechmann and Sister Sledge, I learnt the terrible truths of persecution and abuse facing most women and girls around the world.

Unite, Women, Ethiopia, Women's Rights

Did you know that?

  • 60 per cent of the world's working poor are women.
  • Of the world's 774 million illiterate adults, two-thirds (493 million) are women.
  • Somewhere in the developing world, a woman dies needlessly every 90 seconds because of complications from pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Worldwide, 30-50 per cent of women have suffered violence at the hands of a male partner.
  • At least 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation.
  • Globally women earn 24 per cent less than men.

(Source: CARE International UK)

Unite, Women, Ethiopia, Women's Rights

I also learnt how in many countries where water has to be collected, often from a great distance, it is the sole responsibility of the women and girls. As a result, girls often miss school, or are late or exhausted when they get there, giving boys an unfair head start in life. The situation often doesn’t improve for women as they get older and become constrained by this daily chore which reduces their opportunities of paid employment and leaves them exposed to dangers such as physical attacks and abduction.

Read Richard Branson's blog: Equality is not just women’s business

Although these statistics are shocking and completely unfair you may expect to hear this about gender roles in the developing world but surely this doesn’t happen in a developed country like the UK? I mean my mum, twin sister, female friends and colleagues enjoy the same rights as I do... don’t they?

Unite, Nick Steel, Walk in Her Shoes, International Women's Day

Well, no, actually in reality I learnt that they don’t. It turns out in the UK that;

  • Up to 3 million women and girls across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, stalking, or other violence each year.
  • Women earn £300,000 less than men over working life.
  • Only 1 in 4 MPs is a woman, and women from minority ethnic groups make up only 1.2 per cent of MPs yet comprise 4 per cent of the UK population.
  • Women make up only 20.7 per cent board directors of FTSE 100 companies.
Unite, Nick Steel, Walk in Her Shoes, International Women's Day

Now I’m not completely naïve to the fact that society doesn’t view women and men equally currently or historically, I went to the cinema to see the film ‘Suffragette’ and understand what it cost for women to get the vote in the UK. I’m also aware that there are many double standards that favour men over women in everyday life, however these statistics show that these are facts not subjective opinions. The news did make me wonder how this can still be tolerated in this day and age and whether everyone knows gender discrimination is still happening?

Looking around at the crowds of people who turned out to support the Walk in Her Shoes rally it seems few men know about the gender inequality, or perhaps they do but don’t care, or perhaps they don’t feel included in the debate?

It’s clear to me that if international gender equality is to be a reality, it’s not only women that need to be campaigning for change, men need to be on board too. It was wonderful to hear from a star studded female panel on women’s rights at the rally, but I feel it would have been much more effective to have also heard from men on this issue too, after all feminism isn’t just for women it’s unisex.

This International Women's Day Richard Branson made a Pledge for Parity. Have you?