International Women’s Day: the highlights

Louise Chunn reflects on the centenary year of the annual celebration

What an International Women's Day it's been! For a feminist diary date that used to pass with nothing more than a grudging nod in the mainstream, 2011 has been a bumper celebration. So big that it's taken me this long to go to everything associated and — being a multi-tasking woman myself — now find the time to blog about it.

I spent the early morning of International Women's Day in the Royal Festival Hall at a delicious breakfast jointly held with The Guardian and the Southbank Centre's Women of the World Festival. The G2 section of the paper was  launching its Inspirational Women supplement. I loved this idea. It does inspire, but it also makes you interact — who would you add to the 100 listed, you ask yourself as you read it. My choice for two missing names were human rights campaigner  Ayaan Hirsi Ali and financial journalist Gillian Tett.

Women of the World was organised by Southbank's director, Jude Kelly  (who is the subject of My World in next month's issue by the way). Three days of events, on everything from politics to craft, breast-feeding to singing.

I was delighted to be invited to take part in a WOW event on Saturday. The company was esteemed — novelists Linda Grant and Kathy Lette, design journalist Alice Rawsthorn, and our moderator academic Maggie Semple. We gathered in a large space before a crowd of (I am guessing) 150 women and more than a handful of men, and the talk began. It ranged from Linda's moving quote of how — even when faced with the threat of extinction — a box of Rimmel lipsticks was like manna from heaven for the desperate women in a German concentration camp when it was liberated by the British Army, through to Alice's intellectual analysis of just why women follow fashion. Kathy was determined (quite rightly, in my opinion) to fulminate against the very strong pressures young girls and women feel to wax, dye, peel and freeze, while my final thought was that we should try to find the joy in the clothes we wear, regardless of whatever size they are, and we are too.

I know one of the reasons IWD was 'big' this year is that it was the centenary of its creation. I'm hoping that its success will mean this is just the beginning of it staying 'sexy' for every year.