It’s hard to imagine that there was ever a time when women couldn’t vote in the UK, and even harder to believe that it changed only 100 years ago. As a woman, I am hugely grateful to the suffragette movement for fighting and campaigning to allow women in the UK to partake in the democratic process. I feel proud to go to the polling station when an election rolls around and can’t even begin to imagine not being able to have my say at those times.
I hope they realised that future generations of women – me, my friends, co-workers, mother, sister and perhaps one day, daughters – would appreciate their commitment and dedication to a fight that is so easy to take for granted now. Those radical women gave up so much – in some cases, their lives – to ensure that women of the future could exercise the right to vote, and it is important that we recognise, remember and celebrate that.
Of course, equal voting rights is far from the whole story. 100 years on and we’ve got a way to go to achieve equality between men and women, both in the workplace and society as a whole. In many industries, women are still paid less than men for the same work. Within the digital democracy arena, we have things like the #womenintech movement to try to improve the opportunities and representation of women in tech roles. Whether it’s in the world of technology, politics or Hollywood, we still see examples of women being treated as inferior. So our participation in democracy remains vital – at the polling station and beyond.
Seeing as Delib is all about improving democracy, I asked some colleagues and friends of mine for their thoughts on this landmark centenary. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Louise Cato, Delivery Director at Delib
Were it not for these people, society would not be where it is today. They personally sacrificed an awful lot to create significant public progress; they spoke up and broke rules and took action when others would not and our democracy is so much better for it. But it’s also true that 100 years is not that long and I think that’s reflected in the gulf of inequality which still exists. To be a woman, even in 2018, is often to not be treated as an equal. And I want to recognise that we’re talking about women today, but women are not the only marginalised people in society, there are layers and layers of inequality and in some ways in 2018 this feels more obvious than ever. There’s a lot of work to be done to redress many imbalances and I hope to have even half the courage that those people had 100 years ago to do my part today.
Natalie Williams, Account Manager at Delib
I’m conscious that it’s a great privilege to grow up and live in a country where women having the right to head to the ballot box doesn’t even feel like a privilege, it feels normal and right and unimaginable for it to be any other way. And yet it hasn’t always been that way, and is a right still denied to women in some other countries today. I was fortunate to go to a school where we studied both the UK women’s suffrage movement and the American civil rights movement in History lessons, and though I didn’t realise it at the time that education was so valuable as it helped me to better understand and appreciate these hard-won rights that many of us take for granted & sometimes don’t even utilise when we’re given the opportunity.
I often feel frustrated or get down-hearted about the many smaller but no less valid inequalities & general mad stuff still faced by women in the UK. Only today I saw a news article about the female contestants from Love Island being paid less money for appearances than their male co-stars, for no reason other than their gender (god dammit this thing goes deep). But looking at things in a more optimistic light, 100 years is a fairly short timespan in the sweep of history and it’s super encouraging how much has changed for women and been achieved since 1918. I’m optimistic that in the next 100 years we’ll make even more progress towards ensuring that everyone across our society is accorded the same respect, dignity and worth, including hopefully seeing the introduction of equal pay for male and female BBC reporters, reality TV contestants and all other professions besides.
Samuel Mason, Accessories Pattern Cutter at AV Studios London
Working in an environment, surrounded by talented and creative women, where I feel both supported and challenged is a true joy; the idea that these inspiring individuals haven’t always been afforded the same enfranchisement as me is baffling. We work best when we all share and decide the next step together.
Ben Whitnall, Communications Director at Delib
100 years seems like a bizarrely short time ago to think that half of the country’s adult population simply weren’t allowed to vote. I guess there’s some encouragement in the fact that, for a lot of people – just within a few generations – a world of such overt inequality seems unimaginable now. But it’s also a reminder never to get complacent about these things. It’s hardly as if the extension of the vote to (some) women suddenly ‘solved’ the question of a just and inclusive society! There are still all sorts of ways in which the democratic process and the workings of government aren’t open equally to everyone – and that still needs people to strive and fight and call for change.
(I’m always intrigued to think what the things will be that people will look back on 100 years from now and be amazed that we were just blithely perpetuating…)
Jade O’Donoghue, Senior Content Manager at Retail Week
When I was growing up, I never even questioned whether I’d be able to vote or not because it’s obvious: of course I would! But then, a lot of things are obvious, aren’t they? Like that parliament should be representative of the people they make laws for… except it’s not, and the ratio of male to female MPs is still 2 to 1. Or that women should be paid the same wage as men when working in the same roles… except they’re not, and across the UK men are still earning 18.4% more than women.
We still have a way to go to make things fair and the issue is far more complex than I could put into a few words but the one thing I think we can learn in 2018 from the suffragette movement is: it takes a village. It wasn’t just the Emmeline Pankhursts and the Emily Davisons that fought to make this happen. It wasn’t even just the suffragettes. It was the men who fought alongside these women (and remember, only 58% of them could vote before the Representation of People Act was passed) and the other, more peaceful campaigners who had been at it for years before. Everyone needs to get behind the concept of equality because that’s when we really have the power to make change happen. From the Time’s Up movement to the work being done by campaigns like 50:50 Parliament, groups of people are really coming together to fight for what is fair. Together, we can all play a part in shaping the next 100 years… and I think, when our children’s children look back at 2018, the view is going to be very different.
Ludwig Kayser, Consultant at Delib
The Representation of the People Act 1918 was definitely a landmark moment, but actually only enfranchised women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications, and it also abolished property requirements for men. It would take another ten years for the 1928 act of the same name to establish universal suffrage. There are two lessons I think we can learn from this:
- Building a fairer world is a long march, and victories (even big ones) are only steps along the way.
- Both by definition and in practice, we’re all in it together.
Here’s to the next ten years.
Megan Tonner, Senior Consultant at Delib
Women’s suffrage in the UK, 1918 acted as a catalyst to the rights that I, and my fellow women have today. It’s easy to temporarily forget the superwomen who made that happen (I read earlier they were trained in Jiu Jitsu so they’re just getting cooler and cooler). We do however need to use this celebration as inspiration, to carry on pushing forward for female empowerment.
Xavier Snowman, Academic Outreach & Project Development at Adam Matthew
Aside from it being a major hurdle for women in their fight for equality, I think it’s important to recognise that there’s a long way to go to fight voter suppression. As a Brit living in America, it is clear that around the world there are still obstacles in place that prevent many people from being given a fair chance to vote, which is the foundation of democracy. Here in the US, registration and identification processes are overly complicated and early voting is under attack. I am proud to come from a country where women and men can vote as equals, however it is clear that there are many issues that need addressing, before we can say there is complete equality.
Katherine Rooney, Account Manager at Delib
The 100 year anniversary of women getting the vote is a nice way to see how far women have come. However, it is also a sad reminder of how long it has taken, and how much further we still have to go! May the fight for equality continue.
It’s intriguing, exciting and scary to see what the next 100 years will have in store for equality, democracy and participation. I think I’m fundamentally looking forward with hope – including the hope that people will continue to remember and be inspired by the suffragette movement. And the hope that we can keep taking small, immediate steps to make democracy more accessible, inclusive and fair.