Last night I drove past Sylvia Pankhurst's tall, narrow house, facing the Thames in the twilight, and wondered what she would think about the world today.
I suspect, despite our many achievements and technological marvels, she would feel our work to be extraordinarily unfinished. And her comment that she spoke because 'behind every poor man there stands a still poorer woman', still resonates, as it is the poorest women and children who continue to pay the highest price in a world of rising food prices, economic recession, inequity and violence.
And yet only two cents of every Aid dollar is spent on girls, who remain the most vulnerable of all, too often without either voice or choice.
Today is International Women's Day, and here in London, rather than Sylvia, it will be another woman, an equally powerful voice — for the women of our time, who will lead our walk, organized by Women for Women, over the bridge and along the Thames —Annie Lennox.
When I talked to Annie on the same occasion a year ago, about her work for HIV and AIDS, and her unquestioning commitment, her answer was direct: " I feel that you can't NOT do something. ''
Since then I've been fortunate enough to see her speak at the Women Deliver Conference in Washington DC last June, and at the World AIDS conference in Vienna in July, when she sang alone at the piano, before a crowd of thousands. Each time the commitment, the clear gaze and determination remain the same.
As I write it is dusk in London, but the 8th of March has already dawned in New Zealand, where my daughter and her daughter have just begun their day. There in the Pacific, they are the first in the world to see the sun. Yet four of the world's six countries without women parliamentarians are in the Pacific.
And across the world we continue to fail women and girls, denying them their potential to 'hold up half the sky' alongside their brothers, partners and husbands. Girls remain under represented in primary school in the poorest countries, with even fewer in secondary school. Instead, all too often, millions are forced into early marriage and, unable to get contraception, or health care, die in pregnancy or childbirth — the major cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls.
Last year, finally, the world's leaders promised $40 billion for women's and children's health. But this is not enough. Unless every community where girls live their lives each day, addresses the fundamental injustice that denies girls the same opportunities as boys, to education, to health, to employment and to the right to make the decisions that determine their lives, then that $40 billion will achieve so much less than it should and could.
Fifty per cent of sexual violence is against girls under 15 — surely it is time now for a new compact and a new agenda — a time when women and girls can have the freedom to live free from violence, and to make the decisions that will shape their lives. May the 8th of March 2011 bring that dream closer to reality.