‘1 in 3 girls experience gender-based violence’

Vanessa Boon on why one in three women will face violence from a man as the organiser of Derby's International Women's Day fights for equality

Vanessa Boon has organised the International Women’s Day Festival in Derby.

“The inspiring emotion is anger – anger at the fact that it’s 100 years since women got the vote, and yet still if a baby girl is born today she’s more likely to celebrate her 70th birthday before she sees equal representation of females in Parliament.”

Vanessa Boon is an advocate of women’s equality. She is the chair of Derby International Women’s Day which take places annually to coincide with the global event on March 8.

“One in three girls on this planet will experience gender-based violence,” she says. “That’s one billion women and girls, so they’re my first one billion inspirations for doing it.”

Vanessa is passionate about volunteering in the hope of assuring a safer environment for women in the future. Even though she acknowledges that much progress has been made in the last 100 years, she believes a lot more needs to be done.

“We speak up for victims who are male too,” she explains, “but there’s no escaping the statistics. Two women are killed in the UK every week by a current or former male partner. In Turkey it’s two women an hour.”

Vanessa is inspired by the resilience of the Suffragettes. She believes history books don’t do enough to accurately portray the strong women who sacrificed their lives for the campaign.

“More than1,000 were imprisoned,” she points out, “and lots were beaten and even force-fed, because they went on a hunger strike but weren’t recognised as political prisoners.”

International Women’s Day in Derby takes place on March 8 – the exact day that Suffragettes leader Emmeline Pankhurst spoke in the town’s Market Place. The same Market Place is now the venue for the day’s celebrations

“Our day is very inclusive,” explains Vanessa. “We’ve gone to great efforts to convey that in the symbolism on our poster and the make-up of our speakers’ programme.”

For Vanessa, equal rights for all is vitally important. The event’s advertising poster includes elements to symbolise all women of color and includes the suffragette head band. The poster also has elements of the transgender flag and the rainbow LGBTQ flag, indicating that the event is welcoming of all genders and identities.

Vanessa’s personal business, Energize, which delivers equality training in the workplace, started in 2007. The workshops focus on embracing diversity in the workplace by tacking unconscious bias of the. For every paid day she donates a free day of work to a community cause that she cares about.

In her workshops, apart from educating clients about diversity, she encourages more people to actively fight for equality of rights instead of just passively disagreeing with inequality which, she says, doesn’t add to any true advancement.

“There’s a lot of nice people out there who would probably see themselves as fair and open-minded, but actually they’re not actively advancing to fight for equality,” she points out.

Vanessa Boon believes that dedicating a day of year for women globally is an important step forward in the right direction. According to her having passionate volunteers like herself makes these vital events such as International Women’s Day possible for the improvement in the quality of life, not only of women, but other marginalized members of society.

“In the next 100 hundred years,” she says, “it would be good to see a more intersectional approach where we not only look at gender but at all those different layers”

Vanessa will be battling for equality all the way. She will never give up the fight.