SIX-YEAR-OLD Rosie Wilson is absorbed in her lessons in her North Yorkshire classroom. Growing up in 21st Century Britain, her future should be full of hope and opportunity.

But will her options be shaped by her gender?

Will her life chances be limited by entrenched attitudes about women?

On International Women’s Day – a century on from the first women winning the vote – today’s Northern Echo newspaper and website is dedicated to equality in the North-East.

We reveal a huge gender gap in the number of male and female councillors in the region, and leading politicians, businesswomen, athletes, public sector workers and justice experts tell us what they think needs to change so Rosie – and all the other schoolgirls in her generation – can look forward to a fair future.

Comment by The Northern Echo

THE question we asked in The Northern Echo newsroom when we sat down to plan today’s edition – a special equality-themed paper for International Women’s Day, 100 years on from women winning the vote – was: Does it matter?

Does it matter that on every council in the region, men outnumber women?

Does it matter that just 41 per cent of MPs in the North-East and North Yorkshire are women?

Does it matter that, despite having our second female prime minister in history, just 26 per cent of the cabinet are women?

Does it matter that out of 97 High Court judges, 21 are women?

Does it matter that financial service boards consist of 20 per cent women?

Does it matter that out of the nine members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, eight are male and one female?

The Northern Echo: Shining a light on inequality

The answer, we believe, is yes it does matter. It matters a lot. If women are not fairly represented in all these arenas, then a vital perspective is lost, priorities can be wrongly set, and crucially, the bodies responsible for vast areas of public life are in no way representative of the communities their decisions affect. The country loses out if women’s voices are not heard. We have given the first 11 pages of today’s paper over to a series of interviews with women from the region.

Women in politics, business, sport, justice, public services and the media who give a fascinating snapshot of their experiences, and what they believe needs to change to achieve true equality between the sexes. Women who have overcome personal adversity to help others, and those working at grassroots level on issues including domestic abuse, immigration and mental health. We’re highlighting their stories and views in the hope that schoolgirls like six-year-old Rosie Wilson, who features on our front page, can look forward to a fair future, free from the gender imbalances and stereotypes which are clearly still prevalent in today’s society.

Equality has become a hot topic over the last 12 months, even more so because of the pay row at the BBC and the Me Too and Time’s Up social media movements.

Whether Twitter hashtags can create the environment for sustainable change which reaches all sections of society, remains to be seen. But the more light that is shed on these issues, the more chance there is that things will be different – and better – for future generations of women. In publishing this edition, that is our aim.