One hundred years ago today, the first British women eligible to vote took their place at the ballot box. Thanks to the tireless work of the Suffragettes, 8.5 million women were finally able to cast their votes and have their say in the running of their country.
This vote marked a turning point in history. Whilst there were still restrictions – only women over 30 who owned a property or, a university education could vote – the significance of this day cannot be underestimated. For decades, women had fought for their voices to be counted. On 14 December 1918, this dream finally became a reality.
The Suffragettes did more than achieve voting rights for women though – they helped set the stage for a century of change. Since then, women around the world have continued to speak out for their rights, standing up to sexism, racism, homophobia, corruption and much more.
Last century’s Suffragettes are today’s women human rights defenders. Every day women continue to harness their loud and passionate voices to empower communities, protect the vulnerable and create a fairer, more equal world.
Because the fight is not over.
This has become strikingly clear this year as, women around the world have risen in their millions to campaign for rights and justice. In 2018, we saw women-led movements like Latin America’s ‘Ni Una Menos’ once more galvanise mass support for women’s rights issues on a scale never seen before. In India and South Africa, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest endemic sexual violence. In Iran, women activists risked arrest to resist forced hijab wearing. In Argentina, Ireland and Poland, demonstrators rallied in vast numbers to demand an end to oppressive abortion laws. In Iceland and Sweden, new laws were passed recognising sex without consent as rape. And across the USA, Europe and Japan, millions joined the second #MeToo-led women’s march to demand an end to misogyny and sexual harassment.
But it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. Saudi women who campaigned successfully for the right to drive this year have been imprisoned and tortured. Despite widespread activism, El Salvador and Argentina voted against decriminalising abortion. In Northern Ireland, women can still be sentenced to life in prison for having an abortion, and an estimated 23 women are forced to travel every week to seek the medical treatment that they cannot access at home. At the same time, Polish and Guatemalan policy-makers continue to advocate for stricter abortion laws, while in the USA funding cuts to family planning clinics have put the health of millions of women at risk.
Amid a groundswell of sexual harassment claims from Hollywood to Westminster violence against women remains a human rights crisis that many politicians continue to ignore. One in 10 women in the EU have reported experiencing some form of sexual violence, with this number leaping to one in seven for UK women. Twitter and other online platforms have now become spaces where women can too easily receive death or rape threats, and where their gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation continues to be attacked. It’s 2018, yet globally the gender pay gap still stands at 23%.
The women leading the fight against patriarchy and the persecution and violence that comes with it continue to come under attack at an alarming rate – facing surveillance, intimidation, threats, imprisonment and even risks to their lives.
What would the Suffragettes think if they were alive today? There’s no doubt they’d be proud of the progress we have made, but they wouldn’t be complacent. They’d be out there, calling out abuses, challenging toxic rhetoric and campaigning for change.
It’s now time for governments around the world to stop merely paying lip-service to women’s rights. If the undeniable surge of women’s activism this year proves anything, it is that we aren’t done fighting yet.