It is 100 years since women were granted the right to vote, and yet the battle for equality rages on. In 1918, The passing of Representation of the People Act added 8.5 million women to the electoral roll. Since then the United Kingdom has seen two female Prime Ministers, and now there are 208 women in Parliament. That said, there are still examples where women of all ages continue to fight for female enfranchisement, for empowerment in the workplace, and in life in general.
We have seen women elected as President in Ireland, Chancellor in Germany, Prime Ministers in Israel, India, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, Australia, and many others. Yet we are waiting to see women rising to the top in America, France, and Italy.
It is abundantly clear that many changes have taken place particularly in Parliament, which now almost reflects the United Kingdom demographic status, although there is still room for improvement. Presently, there are 208 female MPs in the House of Commons, which is an all-time high; almost but not quite a third, falling short of reflecting the general population male/female balance. A week is a long time in politics, and it is longer still since the first ever female MP, Nancy Astor, took her seat in 1918.
Furthermore, it has been almost 40 years since 19 female MPs were elected at the 1979 General Election, alongside the country’s first female political leader, Margaret Thatcher. In 1992 a further 41 women were elected, followed in 1997 by almost doubling the number of elected female MPs. However, life is about more than just numbers, so does the proportion of women sitting on our green and red benches really matter to the nation?
The classic argument made by many politicians - almost a throwaway comment - is that we should be aiming for close to 50-50 representation in politics; that the ‘male bastion’ should be dismantled giving equality everywhere. However, the main Parties have different approaches to how to achieve this objective. One has worked informally, using gentle encouragement, persuasion and support networks, whilst the other has pursued a long-term policy of positive discrimination where only women can stand. At the time these all-women shortlists were much argued and disputed.
Another controversial question arises: the issue and status of transgender candidates. Why should the Parties make the effort, and does it matter to you? Most voters have other considerations of concern than gender equality in politics; after all, it took many years for the Suffragette’s campaigns to succeed. If we want our politics to be truly representative, then we need to carry this forward into the general debate.
If you are a woman reading this, then I guess you’re no stranger to being the only woman in the room having to strive for equality, enfranchisement and respect, whilst dealing with male misogyny, maybe even harassment. Sometimes it is all glaringly obvious, sometimes not but, as the ‘Me Too’ sexual harassment campaign has shown - woman you are not alone!
However, if you are a man, what does it feel like if you are the only man in a room full of women? Whether you like it or loathe it, or don’t always notice when you are, sometimes you can feel isolated and uncomfortable. But as human beings, we all know that different environments and different contexts lead to different conversations.
We can look back with the benefit of a century of hindsight, to those times when women were forbidden from having a say in who ran the country; their voices not heard, nor their hopes, dreams and fears considered. Is it still so strange to hope that everyone can be represented in any room by anyone, and that a woman can reach the very top of her industry, political party or country?
If we want our Party, our system, our Government to be successful, why would we not want to include as many people as possible? Does democracy inspire faith if some Party members feel no-one is listening? As this milestone anniversary approaches, it is not simply a question of commemorating an achievement of days gone by, which is easy to do, but to think further upon which steps are necessary for the United Kingdom.
The Veterans’ and People’s Party send our best wishes to all our courageous colleagues, to attain respect, mutual appreciation, honour, truth, integrity and common sense.
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