Byline: By Peter Young And Louise Redvers
Today is International Women's Day and events are being held across the North East to mark the occasion.
Equal rights campaigners are using the occasion to demand action to tackle what they term "shocking" sex discrimination against women in the region.
A manifesto published today by the North East Women's Forum says women are grossly under-represented in every aspect of public life.
The forum's Geraldine Ormonde, a former Labour member of Newcastle City Council, said: "Everyone in the region will get a chance to vote for an elected regional assembly later this year and we see this as a real opportunity for women.
"Where devolution has taken place elsewhere the position of women in politics has been transformed - and we certainly need that here.
"The forum has listened to women from across the region and we've come up with concrete proposals in our manifesto to put to the Government, the political parties and the existing institutions.
"We want an elected assembly with the powers that can deliver on the issues that are important to women in the region and the structures that make regional politics equally accessible to men and to women."
Dot Dawson of the Twelve Villages Network in County Durham said: "Women in County Durham were delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this important document and help shape the future for themselves and their families."
The manifesto, entitled 20-20 Vision, says: "Despite a hundred years of campaigning, women in the UK still face gross discrimination in all aspects of their lives.
"Nowhere is that more true than in the North East. Within the region the level of discrimination and exclusion of women is shocking when we see who runs the region.
"Women are grossly under-represented in every aspect of North East public life, and public policy making is impoverished as a result.
"In the 21st Century that's totally unacceptable. Tackling this outrage is the scale of the challenge we face."
Campaigners say a new elected assembly must use its powers to tackle sex discrimination.
All policies, particularly those on transport, crime prevention, employment training, public health and housing should be gender-audited to ensure equality of opportunity.
Pressure should be brought on public institutions to deliver on gender balance and gender-audited policies. …