As a young girl who stereo-typically wanted to grow up to be a Princess, I immersed myself in Disney films and sang all the catchy songs from the soundtracks. One such song was ‘Sister Suffragette’ from Mary Poppins. Little did I know, as I sat in front of the TV singing along to lines such as “We’re fighting for our rights, militantly” and “Our daughters’ daughters will adore us and they’ll sing in grateful chorus” just what it was really all about.
It would be easy as a woman born in 1998 to take my rights for granted. From the day I was born, I had exactly the same legal rights as any baby boy born anywhere else in the UK. And despite the fight for women’s suffrage being presented to me through the magic of Mary Poppins when I was far too young to understand such a complicated subject, I have never seen myself as anything but equal to men. Personally, I have never experienced any significant gender bias directly in my life and hope I never have to, but I am well aware that 100 years after the Representation of the People Act, there are still contentious issues such as the gender pay gap and workplace sexism that still need addressing even in 2018. But why is that?
The Act itself, while a triumph for women’s rights, was only the beginning of change, and perhaps that is why we still have problems relating to gender a century later. The Act only allowed women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification to vote (only 40% of the female population), but significantly, it also granted the vote to all men over the age of 21. It wasn’t until 1928 when the Act was amended that the vote was extended to all women over 21. So really, this law was the first in a series of stepping stones that have led us to UK women’s rights today.
But don’t get me wrong – the centenary of this first Act should still be celebrated as the incredible anniversary it is, for one would not have come without the other. It means so much to me to have that equality so cemented in our society in the UK because I know I will need it to achieve what I want to in life, and I just hope that one day it can be the same for every single woman in the world.
In 2018, let’s celebrate the democratic equality that women and men before us fought so hard for. Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British suffrage movement, once said:
“You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals; and the only way to enforce that is through giving women political power so that you can get that equal moral standard registered in the laws of the country. It is the only way.”
If you want to celebrate Vote 100 in true British style, why not get involved in an EqualiTea tea party, being held at Staffordshire University on Tuesday 6 February 2018. Debate and celebrate over a cuppa and a slice of cake!