You are here: Gillian Briggs on International Women's Day

For the first time ever, UNA Birmingham branch had a stall at one of the city’s International Women’s Day celebrations. Held on 7 March at the Balsall Health Church Centre, an ethnically diverse, inner city area of Birmingham, the focus of the event was ‘Women’s Safety Issues’.

The theme fits well with UN’s own priorities for International Women’s Day. This year, the UN sought to generate awareness and action on violence against women. Across the globe, women of all backgrounds are affected by violence, from abuse in their own homes to mass rape in conflict situations.

The figures are truly shocking. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime. As many as 70% of women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. And up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16

UNA-UK has also been focusing on violence against women, in particular sexual violence in conflict. In the run-up to International Women’s Day and the 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women, it has been asking its members and supporters to test their knowledge of this horrific, and widespread, crime, and to visit the UN’s Stop Rape Now website for ideas on how to take action.

At the Birmingham event, the focus was on domestic violence – too often a hidden problem. We heard an excellent speech on the subject, which resonated with the many communities represented at the event.

Speaking in my capacity as Chair of the Women’s Advisory Council (WACUNA), I was able to introduce those present to WACUNA and UNA-UK. I explained that we were being represented at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (a report by WACUNA member Sally Spear will be available shortly at www.una.org.uk), where violence against women was being discussed. This emphasised that the UN was giving priority to this important issue, and that it is a global, and not just a local or even national, one. We were also able to attract a great deal of interest through our stall. In fact, the majority of our literature went, including membership forms! 

The following day, I attended a lunchtime concert given at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham, at which an all-women singing group presented modern songs written by women composers. This was the first time the University had organised a concert specifically for International Women’s Day. After the event, there was a tour of the art gallery, where it was wryly pointed out that all the pictures featured were by male artists, but that one of the Institute’s founder and benefactor had been a woman: Lady Constance Barber.

Both these events illustrate the different ways in which communities can mark International Women’s Day: highlighting serious ongoing challenges, such as violence against women; celebrating and empowering women, like the singers and composers; and drawing attention to areas where women are still under-represented.