By Penelope Maclachlan

Brave women, and certain admirable men too, have fought and are fighting for women’s rights in the United Kingdom. It is a slow process, beset with difficulties, including narrow-minded prejudices in the minds of both men and women. We should be encouraged, though, when we contemplate the achievements of strong-minded people who were and are ahead of their time. There are many dates we can regard as landmarks in the progress women have made in the last 150 years.

In 1866 the London the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (the right to vote in political elections) presented a petition to Parliament asking for women to be granted the vote. In 1870 the Married Women’s Property Act came into effect, allowing married women to own property. In 1886,  300,000 to 500,000 activists gathered at a rally in Hyde Park, London, to support women’s suffrage. Christabel Pankhurst said she hoped the gathering would convince the government that public opinion demanded that the Parliamentary vote should be given to women. The Pankhursts deployed extraordinary courage and dedication to bring about changes.

Historians disagree about their [the Pankhurts’] effectiveness, but Emmeline Pankhurst’s work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain. She was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmeline_Pankhurst).

Sylvia Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst were her daughters.

The Fawcett Society say, “When Millicent Fawcett and other campaigners were handing over their petition for women’s suffrage to Parliament, women had few legal rights. … They could not vote in national elections, had no access to higher education, were subject to state endorsed violence from their husbands and were the property of men, usually their fathers or husbands.”

The Fawcett Society is still going strong today, and energetically recruiting members. Their work, though begun magnificently, is not complete, and they will not rest until it is. See https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk, which states: The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. Stand with us, join us today.

During World War I (1914-1918) thousands of women entered the workplace and did jobs hitherto considered suitable only for men. This won the female workers recognition of their political rights. The Representation of People Act became law in February 1918. It gave the vote to women over 30 who were occupiers of property or married to occupiers. Women under 30 were only able to vote 10 years later.

Full adult suffrage was achieved when Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government passed the Equal Franchise Bill in 1928. From that date, all adults regardless of gender were entitled to the vote once they reached 21 years of age. In 1969 the voting age in the UK was lowered to 18 for both men and women.

1929 was the year of the first general election in which women were allowed to vote. Some people called it the “Flapper Election”, because they thought women of 21 were mere girls, too immature to vote judiciously. A “flapper” in the 1920s was a dismissive expression to describe a young woman who dressed fashionably and flouted conventional standards of behaviour.

In 1948 The NHS (National Health Service) gave everyone free access to health care. Previously, only insured people, usually men, benefited.

In 2018 Mayor Sadiq Khan has unveiled a major new campaign to mark 100 years since women gained the vote in the UK. It is called #BehindEveryGreatCity – a play on the feminist slogan of the Sixties and Seventies, “Behind Every Great Man Stands A Great Woman”. The Mayor criticises the use of the word “behind” because a woman’s place is not to hide behind a man, but to stand as an equal by his side. The Mayor aims both to celebrate the progress in women’s right, but also to publicise that we  – men and boys as well as women and girls – still have a long way to go.

In some sectors, women are still paid less than men for doing the same work. Possibly, decades ago, it made some sense for men to be paid more because, traditionally, they were the family breadwinners. This has changed. We have all met women who are bringing up children on their own. They may be divorced or separated from the fathers of their children, or they may be single. With many heterosexual couples, wives earn more than  husbands, who take responsibility for the day-to-day care of the children.   We will have achieved equality when we respect and adequately reward financially everyone who works. Being a managing director ought to be demanding; bringing up children certainly is.







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