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THIS year, we mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed, granting some women over 30 the right to vote for the first time in Britain.
This landmark moment for women’s rights came on the back of tireless campaigning and self-sacrifice by suffragettes in the face of intransigence and belittlement from male politicians of the day.
It was a huge step forward and it is right that we celebrate the tenacious women who played a key role in achieving it.
Yet this anniversary also serves as a poignant reminder that progress takes time and is not always equally shared.
It would be another decade before women gained equal voting rights with men, regardless of age or economic status. And another half-century before equal pay for women was enshrined in law.
A hundred years on, many more advances have been made for women’s rights, but there are still many more battles to be fought.
Too many women still face the gender pay gap, discrimination and harassment in the workplace, precarious employment and restrictions on their reproductive rights.
The recent Time’s Up and #metoo movements have opened many people’s eyes to the scale of gender-based violence and oppression which persists in our society.
It has been both shocking and incredibly powerful to see so many women share their experiences.
The outpouring of anger has also reminded us that it is incumbent on women who have a platform to speak out on behalf of others and to use their strength to fight for those in weaker positions than their own, as those attending this week’s TUC women’s conference will be doing in their hundreds.
In recent weeks, I have seen that spirit in action as women and men in my own union have been out on snowy picket lines at colleges and universities across the country.
They are fighting for fairer pay and decent pensions, not just for their own benefit but for the future generations of education staff who will follow them.
Unprecedented numbers of young people, members, students and the public joining and supporting the picket lines, battling the elements in the face of some of the worst weather to hit Britain in years.
Just like the suffragettes, whose motto was “deeds, not words,” those members know it is only through action and standing up for change that real progress is made.
Until the fruits of progress can be enjoyed by all, we must keep working on behalf of all women everywhere.
And it is in this year, 2018 that we remember many milestones, whether they be the birth of the TUC, votes for women, equal pay, the Windrush 70 years on or the fantastic NHS.
I use the words of one socialist, feminist and internationalist suffrage sister, Sylvia Pankhurst, in particular to close, encapsulating perfectly our movement’s struggle.
Sylvia said: “I know we will create a society where there are no rich or poor. No people without work or beauty in their lives, where money itself will disappear, where we shall all be brothers and sisters, where everyone will have enough.”
Happy International Women’s Day.
Vicky Knight is UCU president-elect and chair of the TUC women’s committee.
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