February 2018 marks the centenary of the first suffragette victory in the UK. The Representation of the People Act 1918 meant that some women were able to vote for the first time. Parliament passed an act granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and graduates of British universities. And December 2018 will mark 100 years since the first general election in which Women voted in the UK. The suffragettes faced opposition from the main political parties, from men who felt women should know their place and from other women who believed politics should be left to their husbands and fathers . Theirs is the story of strength, hope and determination and it didn’t end in 1918. The working class women’s vote took another ten years of campaigning to win universal suffrage which saw women win equal voting rights to men.
And 100 years later we are still fighting for equality! From cuts to welfare benefits and women losing their jobs through maternity discrimination, to the treatment of thousands of women born in the 1950s who have been left with a crisis in their retirement planning, there is still a long way to go on gender economic equality. Thousands of women are campaigning over their pensions. WASPI want the government to implement fairer arrangements for women – born in the 1950s – who have had up to six years added to their pension age with little or no notice. Women may have won the vote but until enough women get your votes we will not have gender balanced governments. In parliament 208 Women MPs were elected at the 2017 General Election, a record high, 32% of all MPs, but men still outnumber women in parliament by 2:1. Whilst in the House of Lords 26% of Members are women, men outnumbering women by 3:1. Polls show that in the workplace more than half of women have experienced. It is more prevalent for younger women and those in precarious forms of work such as zero hours contracts and agency work – precisely those who are much less likely to belong to a trade union.
Whilst we recognise that there is still much to do, it is important for us to mark the struggle of our sisters so far so please consider organising something in your workplace or area. This could be anything from a showing of Suffragette, to women’s conferences, to twitter storms to celebrating SHeroes. We need to ensure women, and men, know their suffrage history and the relevance of that struggle to tackling harassment, inequality and discrimination that women and girls still experience today. Please contact Plymouth In
Unison Women’s Officer Hayley Kemp on 07802 729613 if you have any ideas and/or would like to help organise events.