Campaigners, politicians and stars from Hollywood and the media stood shoulder to shoulder outside the Palace of Westminster to call for gender equality in the March4Women ahead of International Women’s Day on Thursday.
Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, joined forces with Bianca Jagger, Justine Greening, Natalie Imbruglia, Sadiq Khan and many other public figures to say that “right across the board, in every sphere, there’s work to be done” to ensure equality.
Many men joined the crowd of thousands marching for women’s rights, including Mayor of London Mr Khan who helped to lead the charge, saying he was a “proud feminist” and could not understand why anyone would not want to be the same.
Speaking at the event, Hollywood actor Micheal Sheen said he would “absolutely” take a pay cut if it meant being paid the same as an actress and said equal rights were “incredibly important to me”.
Care International’s sixth annual march was especially poignant in the centenary year of the beginning of women’s suffrage in Britain, and in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal in Hollywood that led to the global #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Wearing sashes bearing the suffragettes’ slogan “Deeds not words”, hundreds of supporters held banners reading: “Bloody difficult woman”, “Courage is a muscle” and “Men of quality do not fear equality” before setting off on the historic route to Trafalgar Square.
Ms Pankhurst said: “I think we are living in a world where there are some dinosaurs that are trying to take us back.
“And there are those that are moving together, trying to say ‘that’s not the way we want this world to look’ and moving us forward and looking at issues around inequality, and naming prejudice and all sorts of forms of entitlement that just shouldn’t be part of the scene of the 21st century.”
She said right now there was a “great energy” and that “day after day after day there’s a media story saying we are not going to tolerate this anymore”.
Asked about US President Donald Trump’s recent admission that he does not consider himself a feminist, she said: “It’s irrelevant. I think what we need to be focusing on is the number of men and women who are supportive of change and of equality and all the beautiful and wonderful things that happen.
“And we need to fight against people like him who represent old ideas, dated ideas, ideas that actually put people into boxes and don’t allow people to thrive. Why should we allow that?”
In reference to President Trump’s reluctance to identify as a feminist, Mr Khan said: “I think if you’re in a position of power and influence and you think it’s wrong that women get paid less than men, you think it’s wrong there’s discrimination against women still, you think it’s wrong that simply by virtue of being born a boy you have more chances than a girl, you should be a feminist.”
Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted a photo of her Wikipedia page underneath the search term “bloody difficult woman”.
“Here’s to all the ‘bloody difficult women’ out today on the #March4Women,” she tweeted.
When asked if he would take less money for a role if it meant equal pay between him and a female co-star, Sheen said: “I think it’s absolutely imperative that no matter what the industry, no matter what the profession, that people should be paid the same for doing the same work. That’s just a given.
“We’re not going to change anything unless that happens, so absolutely.”
His comments were echoed by activist Bianca Jagger, who was cheered as she called out for the gender pay gap to be closed before the marchers set off on Sunday.
When he was asked about the popularity of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, Sheen said: “There’s clearly a moment happening, but it’s a moment in a series of moments over history.
“And we have to make sure that this doesn’t just remain a moment. And that everyone, men and women, both make sure that this goes on into the future to make permanent change.”
He added: “We have look at what the systemic challenges are. Not just if there are individual monsters who have done terrible things. We have to each of us look at what our own individual responsibility is.
“I have to look at how I’ve contributed to the challenges for women in society at the moment and do what I can to change that.”
Campaigners shared pictures of themselves and their placards from the event.
“We are bloody difficult women and proud!” Carrie Symonds, the Conservatives’ director of communications, tweeted.
Using the Mayor of London account on Twitter, Mr Khan tweeted: “As a proud feminist it was an incredible honour to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Londoners from all backgrounds at the #March4Women today – and to spread the message that London should be a beacon of gender equality.”
Using his personal account, he added: “Terrific turnout here in Trafalgar Square with thousands of Londoners of all backgrounds coming together to reaffirm our commitment to achieving true gender equality.”
Dawn Butler, the Labour MP for Brent Central, said: “So much energy at today’s #March4women surrounded by so many #Phenomenal women. I had a simple message today: @UKLabour will not give up the fight for equality for women and girls everywhere.”
The Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities also said “equality is key to a civilised society” and compared the protest to Mud March, the first mass procession organised by the suffragettes, in 1907.
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