On February 6th 2018 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Parliament passing the law allowing women to vote for the first time. The organised campaign for women’s suffrage began in 1866 with a petition to Parliament. Then on 6th February 1918, about 8.4 million women gained the vote in the UK through the passing of the Representation of the People Act. This momentous occasion meant that women (albeit only those who met the minimum property requirements and were over the age of 30) were granted the right to vote.
At Equation, we know that achieving gender equality – a society in which men, women and all genders are equally respected and treated – is crucial to ending domestic abuse. So in celebration of the centenary, here are some pioneering female campaigners, lawmakers and politicians who we think have been fundamental to furthering women’s rights in Britain in the last 100 years:
Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (11th June 1847- 5th August 1959) We probably wouldn’t be celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage if it weren’t for Millicent Garrett Fawcett. A long-time activist, she began campaigning for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. These required prostitutes/sex workers to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases and punished if they were found to have any. The Act only set these harsh requirements on women, which Fawcett believed reflected huge sexist double standards. Her hard work paid off when the Act was repealed in 1886.
She led the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) from 1897-1919, which successfully lobbied Parliament for votes for women. The NUWSS campaigned throughout World War One for suffrage, highlighting the vital part women played in the war efforts. This ultimately led to women being ‘rewarded’ with the right to vote.
Barbara Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn (6th October 1910- 3rd May 2002) A true heroine of equality in the workplace, Barbara Castle was instrumental in passing the Equal Pay Act (1970) through Parliament. The historic law prevents the discrimination between women and men in terms of the pay and conditions of work. Castle first became involved due to the Ford machinists’ strike in 1968. The sewing machinists at the Dagenham Ford Plant went on strike and demanded equal pay. They lobbied Parliament and, as Secretary of State for Employment, Castle helped resolve the issue. This resulted in the machinists earning 92% of what their male colleagues were paid, instead of 85% before the strike.
Olive Morris (26 June 1952 – 12 July 1979) Probably the least well-known woman in this list, Olive Morris was a grassroots community leader from Brixton. Passionate and daring, she was a member of the Black Panther Movement, and helped set up the Brixton Black Women’s Group, the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent. During her student years in Manchester, she contributed to the formation of Black Women’s Mutual Aid and the Black Women’s Co-op.
Morris died young at just 27 years old. Her work and activism is poorly recorded, as is the case with so many grass-roots histories – especially those of women, people of colour, those disenfranchised and people living in poverty. However, she is one of many women who should be remembered for her contribution to improving the lives of ordinary women in Britain. Until her death, she worked tirelessly on anti-racist campaigns and mobilised the local communities in Brixton and Manchester to create a force for racial justice in the 1960s and 70s.
Marie Stopes (15th October 1880- 2nd October 1958) A pioneer in women’s sexual health, Marie Stopes published several pamphlets on sex and contraception and strove to make the topic of birth control less taboo in 1920s and 30s Britain. She opened the country’s first family planning clinic in 1921. The clinic offered free advice to married women, and by 1930 several other clinics around the country joined Stopes to form the National Birth Control Council, now known as the Family Planning Clinic.
Marai Larasi (July 1969- present) Ms. Larasi is a black and ethnic minority (BME) women’s campaigner who serves as Executive Director of Imkaan, which is the organisation dedicated to tackling violence against BME women. She also co-chairs the End Violence Against Women Coalition and has devoted her life to campaigning to end the violence and suffering of BME women and girls. She is closely involved with United Nations efforts to end violence against women. In recognition of her hard work, Larasi was recognised as one of the most influential LGBT individuals by the World Pride Power List in 2013.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first women gaining suffrage, we should also take time to recognise the achievements by countless women activists since. Whether in the realm of politics, law, sexual health or prevention of violence against women, our list highlights just a fraction of the women out there who have achieved so much towards greater gender equality, and which we can be thankful for today.
Even now, 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Let’s celebrate how far we have come in advancing women’s rights and protection from violence in the past 100 years, and remember that there is still much more to be done.
To find out more about Equation and our work against domestic violence and abuse, visit: equation.org.uk/about/
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