On November 21st, 1918 a law was introduced which gave women the right to become Members of Parliament. The first female MP to take up her seat was Nancy Astor, after winning a by-election in December 1919. Since this Act there have been 491 female MP’s. This seems like a significant number until you realise 4,503 male MP’s have been elected during the same period. Obviously since then there have been two female Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.
The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 was a one-page piece of legislation, that simply sets out that “women should not be disqualified by sex or marriage from being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament”. This Act was specific to MPs, however other legislation has been passed to prevent discrimination in employment generally.
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination, not only in the workplace but in wider society too. Under the Equality Act people are protected from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation on grounds of: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, marriage, civil partnerships and even as a result of being pregnant
Although there are laws preventing discrimination from occurring unfortunately it does still occur but should not be tolerated. Society is changing, and stereotypical gender specific roles are no longer the norm. We are seeing more male nurses, “house-husbands” and “breadwinner mothers”, which at one time would have been unlikely. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. Equal pay is still an issue and women are still not on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
We wonder what the next 100 years will bring. Hopefully the promotion of equality will eventually result in equal numbers of each gender in Parliament and elsewhere.
Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic can advise on employment and discrimination matters. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.