View from the House – 9th February 2018

February 9, 2018

IN this week’s View from the House for Tamworth Informed, I wanted to write about something a little different.

It may seem an archaic concept to many, but only one hundred years ago today for the first time women in the United Kingdom gained the right to vote.

On 6th February 1918, the Representation of the People’s Act came into law giving women aged over 30 and “of property” the vote for the very first time. At the time this was seen as an immense victory for the suffragettes, suffragists and all those campaigning for greater equality between men and women in a social battle that spanned class and gender. However, it wouldn’t be until fifty years later that all women over the age of 18 had the right to vote.

Tamworth was also part of this movement. In the early 1900s, Miss Pym and her fellow suffragettes protested on the steps of the Tamworth Assembly Rooms.

Ever since this movement for equal rights succeeded, women have become increasingly represented in all aspects of society. For example, nearly one third of FTSE 100 have at least a third of women as directors and the number of female MPs now stands at 208. In fact we have reached a point where the overall number of women who have been elected to Parliament now exceeds the number of current male MPs.

Despite this seemingly progressive news, there remains a long road ahead. 100 years after some women first got the vote, we have only had two female prime ministers, both from the same party. In the workplace, the latest figures show that men earned 18.4% more than women in April 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Additionally, a recent report by the Fawcett Society claims that violence against women in the United Kingdom is ‘endemic’. All one needs to view is some female MPs’ Twitter feeds to see that harassment online is overwhelmingly aimed at women.

Change will continue to come. It has to come. New initiatives such as publishing companies’ gender pay gap will publically highlight inequalities in the workplace. However, it must be part of a wider social movement where unfair practices are called out. Tackling domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace and online abuse are desperately in need of attention.

The ability to speak out without fear of persecution also is a fundamental right of any democracy and one must think back to the initial years of the suffrage movement to understand how important this concept is. Those brave women were speaking out against the status-quo and establishment. Some used direct action, but most used rhetoric, peaceful protest and other means to achieve the same aim.

In any democracy, all opinions must be heard and respected in a peaceful and considered manner. The alternative to free speech is inevitably catastrophic. Democracies are delicate. They take patience, instability, fluctuations of thought, but are ultimately progressive.

The centenary of votes for women enshrined in law serves as a humble reminder that ideas and criticisms of injustice must be heard in a democratic manner, no matter how radical they may seem.