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Climate crisis takes centre stage at International Women’s Day march

Hundreds of people made their way down Whitehall, including Sandi Toksvig, Natalie Dormer and George MacKay.

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Sandi Toksvig during the International Women’s Day march in central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Sandi Toksvig during the International Women’s Day march in central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Sandi Toksvig during the International Women’s Day march in central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Hundreds of people have marched down Whitehall in support for International Women’s Day.

There was a heavy emphasis on the growing climate crisis at this year’s event and the impact it is having on women in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Marchers carried signs reading “sisters not strangers”, “reject hate, reclaim politics” and “no climate justice without gender justice”.

Others sported the green, white and purple of the women’s suffrage movement.

Speaking ahead of the event on Sunday, TV presenter and women’s rights activist Sandi Toksvig said she was “getting impatient” at the slow rate of change in both achieving gender equality and tackling the climate crisis.

She told the PA news agency: “I celebrate International Women’s Day every year but I don’t see big movement.

“We need change and we need it now. We need change in terms of how we deal with the climate, we need change in terms of domestic violence, we need change in terms of education and health and I’m getting more and more impatient.

“Of all those issues the most urgent is climate because this is something on which we must co-operate – it is not something where a few men can decide we need slightly better cars to drive.”

The former Great British Bake Off presenter said the climate crisis was “a gendered thing”.

She added: “Women are the ones who are going to suffer the most, the ones who are going to do the subsistence farming, they are the ones who when things get bad are the victims of domestic violence, we absolutely need to look at the bigger picture on this and this is where the urgency comes from.

“We need men who are running the corporations to make massive changes and they need to make them today.”

International Women’s Day
Natalie Dormer said she was frustrated by the pace of change (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, said she hoped 2020 could be the tipping point that brings about real change.

“I feel right now this resistance is louder and noisier than it has been for a long time and it for me it feels like the fifth wave of feminism, you have this demand, you have this build up if an issue and then things happen,” she said.

Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer said she was also frustrated by the pace of change despite laws being in place to ensure equality.

Citing the example of the gender pay gap, she said: “It feels a nonsense to me that we are even having this debate in a country like Britain.

“Obviously different areas of the world develop at different times and women have to fight at different rates but for us, in a cosmopolitan country, it is absolutely ludicrous that this is not sorted.”

International Women’s Day
George MacKay said the film industry is starting to address diversity issues (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Also on the march was actor George MacKay, who recently appeared in the Oscar-nominated 1917.

He said it felt like the film industry was finally starting to wake up to the lack of diversity and gender equality.

“I’ve witnessed the change – it is still a very male-dominated industry but I’ve witnessed the change where there are more stories led by women,” he said.

“Representation (on screen) is obviously very important but oftentimes you don’t realise that behind the camera so much of it is led by women – written by women, directed by women.”

He said men in the industry were often oblivious to the fact there were no women in the room.

“You get used to what you know, especially for me, my blindness has been that I haven’t questioned anything because to be frank it’s worked for me,” he said.

“I’ve always seen myself represented and I’ve never questioned why I haven’t walked into a room and felt compromised.”

He added:“I think sometimes you know what you know and I think it takes something to make you question it.”

International Women’s Day
Sadiq Khan, with Bianca Jagger during the march, said gender equality should be at the top of the political agenda (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was among those to address the crowds gathered in Parliament Square.

Speaking to PA, he said: “I’m frustrated by the lack of progress (on climate change and gender equality), the fact that it is taking us so long.

“But I’m also worried about the regressive, repressive movements around the world, the nativist, populist movements that are in danger of making us go backwards rather than accelerating forwards.”

When asked how Londoners could deal with climate anxiety, he pointed to the statue of universal suffrage campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

“What people like her, the suffragists and the suffragettes, show us is the power of change in organising,” he said.

“We’ve got to organise – we’ve got a prime minister who has a dodgy track record when it comes to gender equality – we’ve got to make sure we hold him to account and hold all our MPs to account.

“People in positions of power and influence should have gender equality at the top of their agenda.”

Mr Khan said people who want to delay action on climate change are as dangerous as those who deny climate change completely.

“It’s really important that we realise this is a climate emergency,” he said.

International Women’s Day
Extinction Rebellion activists form a topless protest chain (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Earlier on, protesters from the Extinction Rebellion protest staged a topless demonstration across Waterloo Bridge.

A total of 31 women gathered on the bridge – sometimes known as the Ladies’ Bridge in honour of the female construction workers who helped build it – with the worlds “climate rape”, “climate murder”, “climate abuse”, “climate inequality” and “climate justice” written on their bodies.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “It’s mainly women in poorer countries in the global south that are experiencing the increase in violence but this will be the reality for all women if the climate and ecological crisis continues to go unaddressed.”

“We are here to raise the alarm about what is happening to our sisters around the world and to tell women in the UK the climate and ecological emergency is your issue – it will affect you as a woman if we do not persuade our Government to take urgent action starting now.”

PA