Today marks 100 years since some women were given the right to vote with the Representation of the People Act 1918.
Women had to be over the age of 30 and meet certain property qualifications to be eligible. 8.4 million women (40% of the female population) and 5.6 million more men now had a say in the running of their country.
The campaign for women’s suffrage was a long one - the first petition was submitted to parliament in August 1832 by Henry Hunt MP on behalf of a Mary Smith, and many parliamentary debates and draft bills followed. Regional groups formed the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897, led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
By 1903, some women – the suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst - were becoming frustrated by the lack of progress and formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Their motto ‘Deeds not words’ represented a commitment to more direct action – from disruptions and civil disobedience, to attacks on property and hunger strikes.
Emily Wilding Davison famously hid in a cupboard in the House of Commons so that her address could be recorded as the House of Commons for the census. She later died at Epsom Derby in June 1913, killed by the King’s horse as she protested.
The photo above is of Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes campaigning in Redcar 1909!
The Women’s Freedom League, formed in 1907, favoured passive resistance by not paying taxes and not cooperating with the census.
The outbreak of war and the involvement of women in non-traditional jobs helped changed perceptions of women in British society, paving the final path for the 1918 law change.
All women would finally get the vote 10 years later with the Equal Franchise Act.
Whilst we celebrate the achievements of the women’s suffrage movement today, we also need to remember the campaigns still to be won.
2017 saw a record number of women MPs elected and we have our second female Prime Minister – but at 32% of parliament, men still dominate. I was only the 440th woman to ever be elected – amazing when you consider there are 650 MPs at any one time.
In our councils too, only 33% of councillors and 17% of council leaders are women. Of the six new mayors elected across the country, all six are men.
Making sure women’s voices are heard in politics and the public arena is really important to make sure our interests are represented. From health and education, to workplace rights and social security, politics is stronger when women are part of the debate.
The Women’s Budget Group estimate that women will have shouldered 85% of the burden of the government’s changes to the tax and benefits system by 2020. Less affluent women will be the worst affected: those with below-average incomes will find themselves £1,678 worse off. Single mothers, who account for more than 90 per cent of solo parents, will have seen an 18 per cent fall in living standards by 2020 - an average of £8,790.
Without women standing up and making their voices heard and their votes count, government policies will continue to hit women hardest.
Today the fight continues, with women leading on campaigns like tackling period poverty, the injustice of Universal Credit, and the WASPI campaign challenging state pension inequality. We also still face the threat of violence against women, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and forced marriages.
As we take time to celebrate battle for the right to vote today, let’s also think about the change we want to win for our daughters and generations of women to come.
On Friday there was a fantastic local event to commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage - celebrating the progress made and discussing the campaigns still to be won . Thank you to the women who arranged the event including Redcar Older Women's Lobby and to The Cobblers in Normanby for hosting.