India on International Women’s Day

Speech by the British High Commissioner to India on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2013

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sir James David Bevan KCMG

My colleagues wrote me a great speech for tonight. But I am not going to give it. Instead I want to speak to you very personally about myself and what International Women’s Day means to me.

I am here this evening because the issue of women’s rights really matters to me. It matters for many reasons. Some are professional, some are political, but most of them are personal.

This matters to me:

  • because I am a father of three daughters. I want them to live in a world where the only limit on them is their talent and ambition not their gender.
  • because I am a husband. My marriage is a loving and equal partnership. It makes me very happy. I want others to have that kind of partnership and that kind of happiness.
  • because before I became a diplomat I was a teacher, and I taught girls in a developing country, Algeria. I learnt there the power of education to free minds, open up opportunity and allow girls to fulfil their full potential.
  • because I am a human. I don’t want to live in a world where one half of humanity is permanently damaged, dismissed or disadvantaged.
  • because I am a leader. The job of leaders is to point to a brighter future and to work with others to get there. A world in which all women are treated equally will be a far better world.
  • because I have also been a follower. I have worked for women as well as men, and I know from personal experience what brilliant leaders women can be.
  • because I am an employer. Nearly 1,000 people work for the UK in India, the majority of them Indian women. They are hugely talented. One reason we get such tremendous talent is because we treat our staff equally and with respect. Every employer wants the best talent. If that’s what you want, don’t exclude 50% of the workforce.
  • because I am a traveller. I have lived in countries where women do not have the same rights as men, and I have lived in countries where they do. And I know which I prefer.
  • because I want the world to be a better place. When women and men have the same rights and opportunities, it really will be.
  • because I am British. I am proud of the advances we in Britain have made in women’s rights over the years, though we know there is still work to do. And I am proud of the British suffragette movement, which began agitating for votes for women almost exactly 100 years ago.
  • because I work for the British Government, and my government believes in promoting equality, fairness, and opportunity for all.
  • because at the High Commission which I head we have a zero tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination against women - and men. Zero tolerance means what it says.
  • because when I look at those who support women’s rights and those who don’t, I know whose side I want to be on.
  • because I know women who have suffered violence at the hands of men, and I want that evil to stop.
  • because I have spent much of my career on development, and have learned one big thing, which is that if there is one magic bullet for development it is this: educate girls.
  • because I believe in India’s future, and one of my strongest memories is seeing that future in rural India: girls in their pink uniforms riding to school on new bicycles to get an education their mothers never got.

So tonight I want to:

  • Join you in making a stand against violence against women
  • Join you in standing up for women’s rights across the world
  • Join you in calling on others to do likewise.

I also want to praise the women in India and around the world who are making a difference. A few of them are famous. Some of them are here. But most of them are unknown and will stay that way. They’re the unsung ones who, day by day, in villages and communities around the world, are building better lives for themselves, their families and their nations.

And I want to praise the men who are making a difference too. Changing the way women behave is not enough to make women’s lives better: for that, we have to change the way men behave too. And that is happening. I have lived in several countries and visited many more. And everywhere I have been, I have seen men who are changing: fathers who value their daughters as much as their sons, brothers who respect their sisters, male workers who treat their female colleagues as a full and equal part of the team.

I would like to thank everyone associated with tonight’s event: in particular our hosts the British Council, the UK Department for International Development and their partners in the Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme across India, Oxfam India and UN Women.

I would also like to invite all of you to follow me on Twitter, at @HCJamesBevan; and to tell me there what more you think we can do together to fight for women’s rights.

And I would like to invite all of you to join me in the online campaign for UN action to stop violence against women and girls

Finally, I want to leave you with three quotations.

The first is this: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” I encourage you to behave badly.

The second is this: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” I encourage the world to be radical.

And the last is from Jawaharlal Nehru to his own daughter, Indira Gandhi: “There are two kinds of people in the world: the people who get things done and the people who take all the credit. Be in the first group, because there’s much less competition”. Let’s pledge tonight to be in the first group.

Published 8 March 2013