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History 100 years on, our fight is not over

Prominent Labour women say equality has not been won

TODAY marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act that facilitated some women’s right to vote – but more needs to be done to improve politics for women, campaigners and Labour have said.

The shadow cabinet will be meeting at the Museum of London to mark the centenary of property-owning women over 30 achieving the right to vote in 1918. 

A decade later, that right was extended to all women over 21.

The Labour Party said it is proud to have a gender-balanced shadow cabinet and more women MPs than all other parties put together.

But only just over a third (37 per cent) of young women think equal representation in Parliament will be achieved in their lifetime, according to new research from gender equality campaign group the Fawcett Society.

At current rates – with just 32 per cent of MPs women – it will take until 2062 to achieve equal representation.

Increasing the number of women MPs makes “political sense” as laws regarding women’s rights would not have been passed otherwise, Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said.

She suggested that this process can be hastened by legislating to require parties to “take action”, and having “meaningful sanctions” imposed by an independent regulator in cases of sexual harassment in Parliament and local government.

This afternoon, the shadow cabinet will launch Labour’s year-long campaign at the Suffragettes’ Exhibition to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage and look at how to achieve full equality for women.  

And Megan Dobney of the Sylvia Pankhurst memorial committee said the Suffragette's legacy should be recognised and called for support for the campaign to erect a statue of her in Clerkenwell Green, London.

"Statues don't win progress but they are a lasting reminder of the contribution of those they represent. Sylvia fought racism, fascism, imperialism and for the democratic rights of all — as well as for the vote for women. 2018 is the year to mark her unique contribution."

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “Personally I will never forget the day that I cast my first vote.

“Nor will I forget watching my first election count and seeing thousands of ballot papers with X against my name.”

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “In 2009, the fascist BNP were standing in the European elections.

“On polling day I ended up in hospital waiting to give birth, but I knew I had to use that right to vote.

“To everyone’s surprise, I insisted on getting out to the polling station to vote Labour."

Shadow minister for women and equalities Dawn Butler said that the centenary “illustrates that every battle is worth the fight as it takes us a step closer to equality but we must never stop fighting.”

 
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also filmed a video featuring a commemorative plaque that he and the late Tony Benn placed in the  Commons broom cupboard where Emily Wilding Davison hid overnight so she could be registered in the census as living in Parliament.

In the video, he says: “One hundred years ago today an important milestone was achieved in the fight for women’s equality ... This wasn’t gifted by MPs. This change did not come from above. It never does.

“It was won by the Suffragettes who forced the government to act. They were fearless, innovative and they grabbed the headlines.

“Emily Wilding Davison was one of them. She hid in the broom cupboard behind me in Parliament illegally overnight on the night of the census.

“This meant she could record her address as the House of Commons, making her claim to the same political rights as men.

“I was proud to install a plaque in that cupboard with my friend Tony Benn so that Emily’s bravery and the battle of the Suffragettes is never forgotten.
 
“One hundred years later, the struggle for equality continues.”

 

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