Evening Standard comment: International Women’s Day is good for everyone

Today is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the advances we have made in achieving equality between the sexes — especially this year, the centenary of women’s suffrage — and to draw attention to the areas in which this is still work in progress.

And — the clue being in the title — this is also a time to draw attention to the formidable challenges that women in other parts of the world face in achieving even the most basic parity with men, in respect of fundamentals such as access to education and justice.

The real goal for International Women’s Day is, of course, to make it redundant: to arrive at a situation where equality between the sexes is taken for granted, the norm, throughout the world.

But before that happy day arrives, there is still much to be done.

Disparity in pay is, as we have found this year, a fundamental area for reform. And a precondition for dealing with the issue is to quantify it.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is taking a robust approach to the Government’s requirement that firms employing more than 250 people should provide a gender-pay audit by the beginning of next month.

Of some 9,000 firms that come into this category, only 1,600 have so far done so. Ms Rudd has made clear that the Government Equalities Office is prepared to exact unlimited fines to force firms to meet their obligations.

We can then address the reasons for the disparity, currently at 18.4 per cent.

The interesting aspect of today’s events to mark IWD is that they range across the board, as we report today.

In business, finance, sport, music and politics, people are discussing how to make these professions more inclusive.

Some initiatives are controversial, others are feel-good and celebratory, but they all serve to draw attention to those areas in which women could make even greater contribution in the future.

Prince Harry and his fiancée Meghan Markle are today visiting a project that seeks to encourage girls to take up careers in science and technology: it’s a useful reminder that equality in the professions starts with girls’ choices in schools.

International Women’s Day is also for men.

If women are taking equality for granted across the board, men now feel able to exercise responsibility in areas that were once primarily women’s, chiefly in raising their children. That’s progress.

For gender equality is not a zero-sum game. It benefits everyone.

The police and the spy

The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury had another, unintended victim: the unfortunate police officer who came to the rescue of Mr Skripal and his daughter as soon as he saw they were in difficulties.

As a result he too was poisoned and is in intensive care, though he is now, thank goodness, awake and talking.

His prompt response to people who needed his help is absolutely characteristic of the police: it is a reminder of how much we owe to their selfless ethic of public service.

The ambulance service, too, was exemplary in its swift and effective response, a reminder of the risks that its workers undergo in carrying out their vital work.

We take our public services for granted, yet they put themselves routinely in harm’s way on our behalf.

As for Mr Skripal himself, we have a duty of care towards those agents who work, or have worked, for Britain; if he was concerned about his safety, as has been alleged, then the intelligence services should have taken his concerns seriously.

This is plainly a complex investigation and work in progress.

We cannot yet prejudge the results of the police inquiry, but if it does turn out that the Russian government is somehow to blame, the Government’s response must be swift and robust.

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