Today – on the 6th February 2018 – marks the centenary since women in the U.K. gained the right to vote. This time one hundred years ago parliament passed the Representation of People Act giving the right to vote to women aged over 30 giving, 8 million women the suffrage they deserved. One hundred years of voting, is a remarkable anniversary to celebrate.
Being born in this century, I have been lucky enough to express my democratic right to vote on several occasions. However, if I was born one hundred years prior I would have seen the men in my life go to the polling station, whilst I stayed at home. The fate of the country would’ve been in their hands and not mine. One hundred years ago, I would not be where I am today. Without the women that protested, put their lives on the line to stand up for what they believed in, the U.K. would be an extremely difference place it is today.
Realistically how many people realise that today marks this remarkable occasion? It’s something we take for granted. We go about our daily lives not giving the respect to the women that were outcast from society for demanding a basic right. Many turned away from their families and rejected from friends to don the green, white and purple sash of the Suffragette movement. The Suffragette movement was born out of the peaceful demand for women’s votes of the Suffragists, led by Millicent Fawcett. From this the radical protests of the Suffragette movement was born. However, Emily Pankhurst is the name that most will remember from our history lessons back at school when we learnt about this monumental period of women’s history. Both women are icons of this road to women’s suffrage. Pankhurst is undoubtedly a hero of mine, she led a movement which changed not only my life, but the lives of every women in the U.K from 1918 to today. She was not prepared to be patient and wait for this basic right, they demanded it now.
What is often forgotten about these women is the bravery they had in the face of adversity. They wanted their message heard. They were being ignored, like they always had been within the political sphere and it was time to change. From burning down churches, breaking windows on Oxford Street to chaining themselves to Buckingham Palace to hiring boats to sail down the River Thames to shout abuse at Parliament as it was in office. These women were creative, they weren’t going to let anything get in the way of what they wanted.
It wasn’t all easy protest for them. Many sat in prison cells on hunger strike being force fed by the government to prevent giving the movement a martyr which caused public outcry. These women put their life on the line for their beliefs. Their passion and bravery is something to admire and is unfortunately often forgotten. They were prepared to die for this cause, which was sadly the fate that Emily Davison met at the 1913 Derby whereby she was crushed by the Kings horse. She became their martyr and she would not die for nothing.
I paint a picture of violent yet passionate women. However, when it came to Britain’s time of need as we were plunged into the First World War, these women put down their sashes and took up work. Pankhurst instructed these women to stop the campaign and to support the government in any means necessary. This was undoubtedly the most influential move within their campaign. By supporting the government during this monumental hardship it proved to them what valuable members of society women were. Without women at home working in factories across the U.K. the war might have gone a very different way.
The women that fought for this basic right don’t get the attention and respect that they deserve. When I enter a polling station to cast my vote I take into consideration the fact that my ancestors were denied this vote, that women died for this vote and that women across the globe are still being denied this vote. The past century has seen monumental change for women across equal rights from the Equal Pay Act of 1983 to the Sex Discrimination Act of 1985 and acknowledgement of Martial rape in 1991. Nevertheless, a century later, since we were given this right to vote, women today still face gender inequality. In the ‘Year of the Women’ we have begun to address this with the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaign yet inequality and discrimination remains with events such as the Presidents Club and BBC pay scandal.
Yes, we have come a long way since women first achieved the right to vote, but this does not mean our fight is over. We may not be chaining ourselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace, but we will continue the battle for equality in the name of those who began it, in the words of Emily Pankhurst ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’.