Today marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 General Election, when women were allowed to vote for the first time in the UK.
The election, called immediately after the First World War ended, was the first in which women were legally able to vote.
In February 1918, the British government passed the Representation of the People Act which allowed women over the age of 30 who owned property to lawfully vote. This affected around 8.5 million women, but on a larger scale, it still only represented 40 per cent of the population of women in the UK.
The act was a fundamental piece of legislation that allowed many women to vote for the first time, and was viewed by the Suffragettes and Suffragists as a major hurdle in the ‘Votes for Women’ cause.
The valuable female contribution to the war effort during the First World War, in which women undertook jobs in munitions factories, farms and as vehicle drivers, amongst other roles, was only part of the effort in gaining votes for women.
The role of the Suffragettes and their militant campaign also helped garner attention towards the cause. Many members were involved acts of arson, vandalism, hunger strikes and even attacks on politicians – in the hope of raising awareness and media attention.
However, it was not until the Equal Franchise Act was passed 10 years later that women received the same voting rights as men. The 1928 Act expanded on the Representation of the People’s Act and allowed all women over the age of 21 to vote in parliamentary and local elections.
Despite these advancements in women’s rights, there is still a lot further progress to be had.
Today, there are still less than one third of MPs are women and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women are chronically underrepresented. Globally, women make up less than one quarter of legislators and almost half of these women have received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children.
In the UK, 89 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men say that sexism still exists in Parliament and four in ten women councillors have experienced sexist comments from within their own party.
The Centenary Action Group is calling on the UK government to use the centenary year to deliver real change for women’s lives in the UK and around the world.
The group is specifically asking the government to implement Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires political parties to publish their candidate diversity data, and create positive pressure for change.
They are also calling for an end of violence and harassment in the workplace through a mandatory preventative duty on employers in UK legislation and a progressive ILO Convention at the global level; and for an end to online abuse and harassment through committing one per cent of the new digital services tax to ending online abuse.