Over 410 events today around the world to celebrate International Women's Day - and it was a privilege to be part of one here in London, on a sunny, blue sky, spring day.
Led by the redoubtable Annie Lennox - truly a woman for our time – and organised by Women of the World, the Women on the Bridge event led us from Borough Market, behind Southwark Cathedral, near where Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims began their journey; and formerly the home of the ‘Winchester Geese’, as Fourteenth Century London women sex workers were known, and the legal London brothels controlled by the Bishop of Winchester.
We continued along the Thames, past the old Clink prison, and the Globe theatre across the Millennium Bridge, white balloons floating across the sky in front of the white dome of St Pauls, past Waterloo Bridge - the only London Bridge built by women, and, they say, the strongest.
School children in purple chanting for peace, 26 organisations, women from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Cameroon, Ireland, Paris, UK, Soroptimists, White Ribbon, IPPF, and other development NGOs, women from trade unions, women engineers and others from the arts calling for peace, for equality of opportunity, for justice.
Their placards and banners proclaimed 'NO women NO peace', 'fill the 3.5m health worker gap', 'equal rights to health, education'.
At the end Annie Lennox spoke briefly, asking 'why has feminism become an 'f word' that we all cringe from…at the end of the day what do we want - equal opportunity'. So simple, so logical, so fair and yet so hard to achieve.
As a result of failing to achieve equal opportunity, we see the realities of young women's lives denied. In developing countries more than 60 million young women aged between 20 and 24, were married before they were 18, most often against their will; 2.5 million adolescent girls have unsafe illegal abortions a year, making up 46 percent of deaths from unsafe illegal abortion each year, and this is not surprising when we consider the impact of high levels of violence and intergenerational sex on young women, their lack of access to the modern contraception they desire, the lack of the right to decide whether or not to have sex or to have children.
Girls make up the majority of those infected with HIV, in the developing world, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, but again, is this so surprising when we consider that in that region only 19 percent of girls and young women have a correct understanding of HIV and its transmission.
And yet recently, we have seen young people in 18 countries lead the reduction of HIV largely because they were able to access condoms, and the lifesaving information they needed as part of comprehensive sexuality education.
In some countries such education is still seen as 'likely to wake the sleeping baby'- in other words to lead to early sexual activity. There is a body of research that now clearly demonstrates that this is not so, that to argue this is like blaming seat belts for car accidents. In states in India it has been suggested that CSE will corrupt the nation, and ruin the education system. Surely the truth is, as we have seen from studies in Nepal, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, that CSE, when truly comprehensive, teaches about human rights, HIV prevention, and gender equality, replaces ignorance with knowledge, fear with understanding, and enables young people to see each other as equals. Then they too can understand that 'Women's rights are human rights'.
But some have scant respect for human rights, as is obvious every day, so at times we must take another line. In the words of the chair of Women of the World, here in London today, 'A world that is good for women is also good for men' - and of course for their children. Equal opportunity for women and girls is the key to resilient communities, growing national economies and a sustainable planet.
If human rights and social justice cannot convince those opposed to equal opportunity, perhaps economic arguments, a little enlightened self interest and plain common sense can, so that all can finally agree, 'A world that is good for women is a world that is good for all.'
It is 100 years since the first International Women's Day - surely that time has come?