Messages for the Centenary

This year's International Women's Day is particularly important as it marks 100 years of the day.

Statement from Commissioner Kay Carberry

Commissioner Kay CarberryKay Carberry CBE has been a Commissioner since 2007. She has acquired extensive experience of working for women's equality from her roles at the TUC, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Women and Work Commission and other organisations, as well as here. 


In this statement, Kay reflects on what the centenary of International Womens Day represents.

International Women’s Day was first marked a hundred years ago. Since that time, women have made incredible strides. 

  • A woman in the UK in 1911 could expect to live until the age of 55; today, life expectancy for British women is 82 years.
  • In 1911, there was a significant risk of death in childbirth (355 women per 100 000 live births died as a result of childbirth or pregnancy related causes); today maternal mortality in the UK is at a historic low (down to 14 deaths per 100 000 live births).
  • A hundred years ago, fewer than 10% of women went to university and in the case of Cambridge University they were not awarded degrees on an equal basis to men until 1948. Today, women are outperforming men in education, they get better GCSE results and make up 58% of university undergraduates.
  • In 1911 a British woman was barred from voting or standing for public office and if she was one of the third of British women in paid employment, she would most likely have had to give up her post once she got married.
  • Today, sex discrimination in employment is illegal and women in political life are making their mark, notably in Scotland where they make up 35% of the parliament and Wales, where they make up 48% of the assembly.

From the Suffragettes to the Dagenham strikers, many British women fought hard and made huge sacrifices to enable us to enjoy the rights we now take for granted; from the right to own and inherit property to paid maternity leave. International Women's Day is our chance to thank those campaigners and honour their achievements.

However if today is about celebration, it is not about complacency. 

As the Commission’s triennial review report How Fair is Britain? and our forthcoming update to our Sex and Power publication show, we are still a long way from achieving equality. On too many issues, unacceptable inequalities remain: violence against women and girls, marked labour market segregation, the unequal division of care and multiple discrimination to name a few.

Most worryingly, in some areas there are signs of regression. For instance, women make up only 22% of Westminster MPs and the proportion of women in cabinet has declined. Women are also disproportionately represented in low paid, low skilled part time work and women are exiting the labour market at a faster rate than men during the economic downturn.

The Commission is Britain’s equality regulator and we will use our powers to make the rights set out in the Equality Act 2010 a reality for all women. As the country’s National Human Rights Institution we will continue to ensure that women’s rights are human rights. Today we are launching these webpages to mark the centenary. Through them you can find details of all our gender equality work.

Women's lives have changed for the better over the last one hundred years and we all have a part to play in ensuring that it does not take another hundred years to achieve real equality between the sexes.

See also:

> Statement from Rt Hon Theresa May, MP

> Statement from Rt Hon Yvette Cooper, MP

> Our statement to the Human Rights Council

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