EARLIER this week I was delighted to interview the writer and woman’s rights activist, Helen Pankhurst. Helen is the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and was appearing as a guest on The Alex Salmond Show for International Women’s Day.

Her new book Deeds Not Words, just recently published in the centenary year of female suffrage, explores how far women have come in the 100 years since we gained partial franchise, with inspirational arguments for the way forward.

Of course, despite the enormous sacrifices made by her great grandmother and the suffragette movement as well as their appalling treatment at the hands of the authorities, only women aged 30 and over, who owned property, were initially granted the vote back in 1918. It took another 10 years for this to be extended to all women over the age of 21. Helen Pankhurst recommends that, 100 years on, we use this decade leading up to the second anniversary in 2028, as an opportunity to take action and effect real and lasting progress on equality for women.

Her message is positive and affirming, yet realistic in its reach – we have come so far and yet far too many of the suffragettes’ experiences of 100 years ago are still relevant today. The struggle for a political voice affects many women all over the world; the rights over our children and unborn children; continued violence against women; inequality at work, the gender pay gap and overall economic inequality; these are all very real and present problems for women across the globe in the 21st century.

In the UK, we’ve only got to look at the disastrous effects of Tory austerity to see that women are still in the frontline when it comes to the targeting of UK Governmental spending cuts. Women have borne the brunt of the austerity experiment, with £22 billion of the £26bn saved since 2010, coming from the pockets of women. Policies such as the two-child cap on tax credits and the rape clause show that the Tories in Westminster care little for the rights of women, their welfare or indeed their dignity.

It’s vital then that women use our vote to make changes, to challenge these thoughtless and cruel policies and to choose another way of governing. In Scotland, the SNP-led Government has brought in a number of successful initiatives to address gender inequalities, and is leading by example with a female First Minister and a gender balanced cabinet. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that Holyrood is 50/50 female and male MSPs and the same can be said of the much poorer ratio at Westminster.

According to research, a similar proportion of men and women fail to use their vote at elections. Remembering the tireless work of the suffragettes, it’s hard for someone like myself, so entrenched in politics at every level, to understand why some women don’t vote. But, as Helen Pankhurst indicates in the interview, many women feel that the political process is pointless, that the system so poorly represents their interests that there is little hope of change regardless of the party in power. We need to reach out to these women and help them understand that their vote is a powerful way to make their voices heard.

We also need to keep encouraging women into politics, to ensure they are at the very centre of decision making and policy decision. Not a day goes by without some new headline on the abuse female politicians receive from all corners, on social media, in the post, in the street or even in some of the less discerning newspapers. We need to put adequate support in place to protect women in public life from unacceptable threats and abusive language. This has to come from political parties, with mechanisms to meet their responsibility to protect their employees, as well as from the wider media. For too long, social media companies have ducked out of their responsibility to monitor and deal with abusive users.

This cannot be allowed to continue. If we are to have healthy debates in society on the way we want to live our lives, we have to raise the bar on the kind of language deployed and what we deem as the boundaries of reasonable discourse.

On this matter, Helen Pankhurst offers great hope for the future. Even in a world where the President of the United States hides his contempt for women in plain sight, there is still scope for society to stand tall and chose another way. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, show that women are awake and emboldened, we are fighting back against discrimination and misogyny. Helen believes that through individual and collective action and through new legal frameworks, we can create a better, more equal world.

It seems apt then that on International Women’s Day tomorrow, the campaign theme is #PressforProgress on gender parity. We don’t need to accept that gender parity is a distant dream. The sooner we achieve it, the sooner the world will become a better place. Research has shown that gender equality will reduce poverty, combat hunger, encourage economic growth and employment opportunities.

In short everybody wins. So, what on earth are we waiting for?