The President’s Message
I love this event because it celebrates women in all their glory and their achievements in every shape and form – from business and politics, to the arts and voluntary endeavour, from courage and integrity to humanity and compassion. Our society is full of fabulous women and midst the economic gloom it should be a source of celebration.
When Joan Armatrading phoned me to extend the invitation from the council to become the president of this great organisation, I was taken aback. It was like receiving a call from Buckingham Palace. Following in the footsteps of Joan, who had been the most wonderful host and visionary leader of the Women of the Year lunch, was going to be a daunting but challenging role. I quickly told her that I could not sing and had a very poor sense of rhythm but I was honoured.
It was an easy decision as I have loved the whole project since I met Tony Lothian, the amazing Marchioness, many years ago and she regaled me with her story of its invention. She was herself a groundbreaker – a pioneer journalist – and she wanted to find a way of celebrating the incredible contribution women made to our world in their many different ways. That was 55 years ago.
The Women of the Year lunch is now one of the key events in our national calendar: a joyous tribute to women’s special achievements and their excellence in many roles across a huge spectrum from politics to business, from healthcare to the shopfloor. The lunch also celebrates women’s triumphs over adversity; their inventiveness; their humanity, their compassion and dedication in many fields; their sporting and artistic glory; their creativity and sheer genius. One woman’s success may not mean the world has changed but lauding it, cheering it, can give courage and inspiration to others.
In my own lifetime, there have been huge gains for women. However, domestic violence is still rife. The conviction rates for sexual assault and rape remain too low and the scandal of unequal pay is still an issue. While women are making great strides in the professions and other formerly male exclusive zones, they are still thin on the ground in high political office, in the grandest parts of the City and in the senior judiciary.
And as we leave Britain, the story for women gets worse. Around the world, many of the worst human rights abuses are perpetrated on women and the toll of the worst poverty is borne by women and children. So when the occasional naysayer asks ‘What is the point of this event?’, I have no difficulty in making the case for the need to keep counting the advances and the need to remind ourselves of the pain.
I love this lunch – the sheer joy of it, the laughter and the volume of the talk. The female cabinet minister sits down with the postwoman, the javelin thrower with the judge, the dress designer with the nurse and the factory worker with the rapper. Everyone leaves uplifted and nourished in the knowledge that women are making a huge difference and that the world can be changed for the better.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Photo credit: www.alisterthorpe.com