'˜We're every woman - and we're proud to be the backbone of Leeds'

Girl power reigned supreme at Leeds Town Hall as hundreds of people gathered for a celebration of womanhood on International Women's Day earlier today (Tuesday).

Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 4:54 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 4:56 pm

Solidarity and sisterhood was flowing, as guests honoured the achievements of women across the region and the world.

Tables named after diverse luminaries like Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, writer Maya Angelou, Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain and artist Barbara Hepworth paid tribute to inspirational female achievers.

And with a campaigning theme of pay parity for women, guests took away the powerful message that although great strides have been made for female empowerment and equality, much more needs to be done.

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The event ended with a rousing speech from Alison Lowe, Armley Labour councillor, charity director and community activist, who told the packed Victoria Hall how her own difficult early experiences as a black woman had shaped her feminist ideals.

She said that as much as celebrating the achievements of successful professional women, it was important to remember and give a voice to ordinary women who may not have found theirs yet.

“Women are the backbone of Leeds,” she said, adding that “being a woman is the best thing in the world but it is also the biggest responsibility”.

At one point during the day, #IWDLeeds was a top trending topic on social media.

The day included a fashion show with women dressed in clothes from different countries, and a series of workshops run by guests such as YEP editor Nicola Furbisher, who led a talk on helping women and girls achieve their ambition.

There was also a poignant message from Leeds rugby hero Kevin Sinfield, who is an ambassador for the White Ribbon campaign, which encourages men to take the lead in the fight to eradicate domestic violence.

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said: “We have got some amazing women in Leeds and, first of all, it’s about celebrating what they are doing.

“But it’s also about the challenges we have in the city.

“We don’t have pay parity for women, we don’t have enough women on senior boards and in senior positions, so it’s about how we inspire the next generation to make sure that we put that right.”

Among the speakers was Sharon Watson, chair of Phoenix Dance, who is heading up the city’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023,

Speaking of International Women’s Day, she said: “There’s nothing like celebrating success, so let’s keep going.

“But there are successes still for us to reach and to achieve.”

Councillor Judith Blake, who last year became the first ever female leader of Leeds City Council, said: “It’s great to see so many women coming together.

“It’s the third time we have done it and the first time with myself as leader of the council which I think is a great statement for everyone here.

“We are coming together to celebrate success, but also to recognise that we have still got a massive job to do. With great enthusiasm and optimism, together we can make a difference.”

Asked how aware she was of wearing the ‘first female leader’ mantle, she added: “I guess I was aware but the reaction has been quite phenomenal.

“Everyone was ready for it in a way. But we have got to make the most of it, and make sure we have a very inclusive approach to everything we do.

“And Leeds, I hope, will benefit as a result.”

Heather Nelson JP, chief executive of the Leeds Black Health Initiative, a community engagement organisation, compered the event.

The council’s deputy leader, councillor Lucinda Yeadon, whose Kirkstall ward was heavily affected by the Boxing Day floods, celebrated the many women who played a big part in helping the area get back on track after the devastating flooding which affected many homes and businesses.

Guests were entertained by a chorus of choirs from across Yorkshire conducted by Charlie Gower-Smith and Class Dynamix, who performed original songs with founder Danny Gough.