We’re celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage, where (at least some) women finally got the vote in the UK. It is astonishing to think that as little as one hundred years ago women did not have a voice in the laws that governed them. It is not something to be taken for granted, even in the west, especially considering Swiss women only gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1971.
Once women had become an electorate worth courting, legislation followed that reflected female concerns. A new act was passed in 1920 preventing child labour in industry. In the same year, an act was passed in Scotland allowing women to become jurors. New acts followed regarding maintenance of married women with children and compulsory education for 5-18 year olds was signed into law. One single significant change in suffrage led to many more positive changes throughout society.
Changes in the law are a crucial step towards equality but ensuring the changes are reflected in practice can sometimes be another matter, as we’ve seen with the recent news stories regarding unequal pay for men and women, nearly 50 years after the Equal Pay Act. What’s more, having fought so hard for the vote, not everyone signs up to the electoral roll or bothers to vote on polling day.
We’re also aware that not all women enjoy the rights that we do in the west and we hope that we can raise our voices in support of women right around the world. But today is a celebration, as we say in the words of the song, “Well done sister suffragettes!”.