A DISPASSIONATE regard for history shows we are ignored, occasionally afforded space reluctantly as a Queen, or more probably the “consort”, or perhaps an aberration: the odd rebel, the witch, so can we take a moment to acknowledge we’re standing on the shoulders of the great?

Through the ages women have been “the real architects of society”, according to Cher, yes, Cher! The unsung, the everyday, the quiet, the silent ones. Or those who came forward at the right time with the required actions. The women collectively known as the Edinburgh Seven were the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university. But do we know their names, regularly see their statues, portraits, faces on stamps or banknotes?

One of my own favourites is Mairi Chisholm, a Scottish nurse, motor bike rider and ambulance driver in World War One, who with her friend Elsie Knocker won numerous medals for bravery and for saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Keeping the home fires burning could mean starting those fires!

Then there’s Mary Barbour and the rent strike of 1915, and all she then went on to achieve for women and their families. At least her statue is now on its way! But what a wait!

The world’s first National Woman’s Day was observed in the USA, on February 28 1909, as the Socialist Party of America designated the day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, when women protested against their working conditions. There are various claims to the start of “internationalism”: was it started by the suffragettes with the first International Women’s Day in 1911, and Emmeline Pankhurst’s quote: “International Women’s Day belongs to all”? There were various European countries with dedicated days prior to World War One, including Germany.

Nowadays, there are various signs of “progress” for some women but not all: voting rights, the right to own property (and not be thought of as “property”) and access to education are just some. Just imagine how in one country there is celebration that women can now drive, but in another there is a campaign currently being waged to stop child marriages. The hashtag #PressforProgressNow (via the UN) adds to the many others including #endFMG and #TIMESUP.

Then there are one-off initiatives, like Air India operating the world’s first all-women crew flight from Kolkata to Silchar way back in 1985. I’m not decrying the training, rigour and application that those women went through, nor the fact that they are pioneers. But how much lasting change do one-offs generate, in everyday life, and the lived experiences of women? I am sure they create interest at the time, but isn’t it poverty and austerity that holds everyone back, preventing the sustained progress we need for the benefit of all within our society?

UN Women and the World Bank unveiled new data analysis on women and poverty in November 2017 confirming what we’ve known for years: continued female poverty impacts on children, families and society and needs changing. The success or failure in addressing this rests heavily on whether change is designed and operated from a gender perspective.

It bodes well, then, that our government has its sights firmly set on gender equality and its belief and intentions that no-one should be denied rights or opportunities because of their gender. Perhaps then, statues, celebrations, recognition and our worth will be the norm as we continue the work of all those wonderful women who went before us.

Selma Rahman