It's International Women's Day! 

What Is It?     Do We Still Need It?   

Should We Even Celebrate It? 

Okay, let me begin by stating I'm a cynic when it comes to anything that purports to advance the cause of a particular group, or gender, while singling out a special 'day' devoted to that group. It's always seemed to me that, rather than proving that its chosen group is just as capable and successful, devoting a single day a year to a 'cause' serves only to outline the very reasons why it is a special case and so reinforces any prejudices against it. But I also know that certain sectors of society, most definitely including women, do not get a fair deal, certainly not in every country, and so, days like International Women's Day, are kept alive by people with the most earnest of intentions. But I worry that, by proclaiming that one particular day each year is 'International Women's Day', that it implies that the other 364 days are International Men's Days! "Quite right!", you might say, if you're of the female persuasion.

But all joking aside, two years ago marked the much-vaunted 100th International Women's Day, so I decided that, since I am undeniably a woman, that perhaps it was time I let go of my cynicism and investigated further. And it seems that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. 

It has its roots in the US socialist movement. In 1908 15,000 women gathered in New York City to demand shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. By 1911 more than 1 million men and women attended rallies to mark the day. A century on, and the day has become not just one for raising awareness of 

women's struggles for equality, but one for global recognition and celebration of the contribution of women to our society throughout history. In many countries, among them Afghanistan, Bukina Faso, Laos & the Ukraine, the day is a national holiday where men treat their mothers, wives, sisters, girlfriends and female colleagues to flowers or small gifts. And all this without the encouragement of a greetings card manufacturer! But it's not just about whooping it up with girl power and having 'girls only do's' at nightclubs; it has a more serious side.

Two years ago women in 48 different countries gathered on bridges to call for an end to all war. In the UK, Sky Television is ran a whole week of special programming to celebrate the anniversary. On the day itself,  Sky News is featured female presenters all day. Movies directed by, or starring women and a host of special programmes were screened. Even those cartoon favourites, The Simpsons got in on the act with three episodes focussing on Marge! Documentaries and arts programmes featured the achievements of women and there was the ultimate chick flick "Thelma & Louise". We all know that countless women have made enormously important contributions, in culture, in science and so on, to all our lives. We see remarkable women striving for success in business, creating beautiful artworks, or performing on stage for our entertainment. We watch avidly as female war correspondents put themselves in the firing line to let us learn the truth about a far-flung conflict. And so it's perfectly acceptable, and quite appropriate, to celebrate what these women have achieved. But there's another, less glorious truth that International Women's Day also seeks to bring to our attention. That millions of women have few rights to choice, opportunities to succeed, or encouragement to try.

Most of you reading this will have been fortunate enough to grow up in a time either during, or post, the era of 'Women's Lib' and so have, probably without appreciating our forebears efforts, lived comparatively easy lives. But we know that life wasn't always like this for women. Not until 1918 could any women vote, or stand for Parliament … and then only those aged 30 and above. For the rest of us to get the vote, we had to wait until 1928. But that still means that for most of us, and even most of our grandmothers, being allowed to vote has been a lifelong right. 

But there are countries where this is not the case. Where laws forbid women from driving or from possessing land in their own right. Where they have no protection in law against domestic assault or no rights to divorce. These are well documented, and we hear about them in the media every day. But what we tend not to think about are the millions of women in the Developing World, who not only have little access to education, but also fall short of even basic health care. Both my great grandmother, and her husband's mother died shortly after childbirth. But that was more than a century ago and in a world without antibiotics or anything much more than basic infection control. And yet, in many countries women still have no access to these medical basics.  And, surely, while we have a world where women routinely die in childbirth, then do we really have any equality at all?

So this year, I'll be happy to celebrate the achievements of my talented sisters of today, be thankful for the endeavour of those sisters of the past, and hope for the advancement of the sisters of the future. Happy International Women's Day everyone!