In the history of women’s rights, in the UK, 1918 is symbolically massive. It was the year women finally gained the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This landmark came on the back of more than 16,000 petitions, more than 50 years of campaigning, and many, many sacrifices.
Yet the People’s Representation act of 1918 was only a partial win - only women over 30 with property or a university education could vote. Equal voting rights was granted only 10 years later - and even today some women cannot exercise this right.
However symbolically 1918 was transformational.
Over the last couple of years, I have been researching and talking to women and girls about the changes to their rights since then. My book ‘Deeds not Words, the story of women’s rights, Then and No’ summarises my findings, in chapters looking at politics, money, identity, violence, culture and power. Clearly much has changed but with significant variations across different parts of women’s lives.
However, a hundred years from 1918, it feels like this centenary year is also going to be pivotal. #MeToo, #TimesUp, the gender pay gap related scandals, the President’s Club, the F1 grid girls, mothers on marriage certificates, one issue after another, in the UK and around the world, individual women are speaking out and others are amplifying their voices in solidarity. Together, we are forcing changes in social norms. Norms that allowed privilege to rule unchecked, norms that have continuously undermined women.
It feels like we are at another watershed moment, this time because we are forcing changes in what is acceptable, inevitable, normal. We are calling time on the lack of accountability that unchecked privilege creates.
8pm on the 6th is the 100-year anniversary of the passing of the 1918 Act. It is a moment we will be using to honour and celebrate the feminist resistance leading up to 1918, whilst also galvanising sustained activism.
One aspect of this is the work of the Centenary Action Group, which I convened with the support of CARE International, and which is bringing together over 70 women’s organisations, political parties, key individuals and action groups to campaign for the Centenary to help deliver real change for women in the UK and worldwide. We are demanding:
- Greater women’s political participation and leadership, especially in local and national politics
- An end to violence and abuse of women, including women in politics and leadership
- Targeted efforts to address economic inequalities that prevent women engaging in politics and decision-making.
We have come together to say that even though some women got the vote 100 years ago, there is still a need in the UK and around the world to champion women’s right to take part in the decisions that affect their lives - free from harassment and abuse.
Wherever you are at 8pm on Tuesday the 6th of February, please join us on Twitter sharing why you are #StillMarching . You can also sign up to our thunderclap up until 6.00pm on the 6th.
And let’s keep up the feminist pressure throughout 2018 – not just because it’s a centenary year but because it has the markings of being a remarkable year in its own right.
What we are seeking is a world in which the voice of everybody counts, irrespective of sex, gender, sexuality, colour, ethnicity, creed, disability, class, age, political persuasion and whatever other category is introduced to demean those who are not like us. What we are demanding of society is dignity within a rich tapestry of differences.
Helen’s book ‘Deeds Not Words, The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now’ is out now and she is speaking at 5x15 on Thursday 8 February.