International Women's Day 2014: Esther Rantzen – 'Many are still deprived of that crucial gift – education'


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The Independent Online

Esther Rantzen CBE has made pioneering programmes on subjects including British women’s experience of childbirth, stillbirth, mental health and child abuse. In 1986, she founded ChildLine, a charity that she chaired for 20 years. She is currently creating a new helpline for older people,  The Silver Line Helpline.

What does International  Women’s Day mean to you?

Appreciating the freedom and opportunities that women in Britain have and challenging the fact that so many women in so many other countries round the world are still deprived of that most crucial gift of all – education. Of course, there are many barriers still to break down in Britain, but we at least recognise that women have the right to ask questions about why we don’t have equal pay and why we’re not represented in Parliament or the boardroom in sufficient numbers. But look at what the Taliban, for example, are doing to women who want to educate girls.

Can a single day really help empower women?

I think it’s always worthwhile to have a moment to focus. Events such as the floods in Britain, fires in Australia and turmoil in Ukraine crowd us day after day, especially with 24-hour news bulletins, so it’s good to have a moment to reflect where women are at today.

What do you think about this year’s theme of Inspiring Change?

This morning, I was listening to an Orthodox Jewish woman talking about why she allows women like herself to experience ingrained prejudice. She’s a feminist and she was trying to understand how she can tolerate it. She shouldn’t tolerate it. Inspiring change could not be more important to help women like her to achieve this.


In your career, have you faced difficulties as a woman?

When I started out in TV, it was a famously male preserve and when I said I wanted to be on-screen, I was told it was impossible. That only changed because I had the fortune to end up in the only department of the BBC that was gender blind.

What messages do you want girls and women to take away from  this year’s IWD?

Don’t be afraid of failure. Women have always been frightened  of taking that extra leap just in case they fail. It’s not a disgrace  to fail. Just get up and try again.

Have any women particularly inspired you in the past year?

It’s a terrible cliché, but I think that if ever there was a great  role model for older women,  it’s the Queen. To me, she  seems to do a difficult job  better and better as each year passes and I think she sets an excellent example.