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Thursday, 28 June 2018

Votes for Women

On Sunday 1 July between 12:00–15:00 in The Borough Gardens, Dorchester there will be an event to celebrate 100 years of Women's suffrage.

 "A free event to celebrate 100 years of women first getting the vote! There will be fun activities, educational displays and speakers, as well as music and entertainment to enjoy whilst indulging in tea and cake."

So what is this all about?

In June 1917 the Representation of the People Bill had been passed by a large majority in the House of Commons, with 385 votes for to 55 against. The act became law after receiving Royal Assent on 6 February 1918 and saw the size of the electorate grow from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. It served to add 9.2 million new female voters and 4.5 million new male voters.

Many historical commentators have suggested that the role women played in the first world war contributed to this step forward, but others feel that the role of women had already changed when they were asked to step into the factories or to participate in the field hospitals. 

Forceful campaigning by the suffragette movement as early as 1860 had been pushing for electoral change and at the end of the war there had been an attitude shift in British society. Not only did women prove they were deserving of the vote but also the returning male soldiers; Prior to World War One only 60% of the adult male population had the right to vote.

The passing of the Representation of the People act was the first stage in the political emancipation of British women but it only allowed women over 30 who owned property to vote. It took a further ten years before all adult women over the age of 21 years were entitled to vote and other political reforms took much longer to be introduced. 

Nancy Astor became the first women to take her seat in the House of Commons as an MP in 1919 but it was not until 1958 that women were able to take a seat in the House of Lords and then only as Life Peers. It took a further five years before they could pass on an hereditary peerage to their children.

In the 2017 General election there were 650 MPs elected of which 442 are male and 208 are female. The under representation of women in parliament today has been widely sited not to a lack of women wanting to be MPs but due to the well-entrenched gender bias in British party politics and discrimination by party selectors towards women candidates.
There is much still to achieve and women Mps such as Mhairi Black are continuing the campaign for women's social equality.

As we celebrate the centenary of women's entry to the political arena, credit should be given wholeheartedly to the vital role the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) played in gaining the right for women to vote.

Looking at the experience of women in other countries who did not benefit from this forceful movement, winning the right to vote could have taken us decades longer to achieve.

Voting in other countries

  • Women got the right to vote in Finland in 1906, Norway 1913 and Denmark and Iceland 1915.
  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Netherlands granted suffrage in 1917.
  • Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Sweden in 1918
  • Germany and Luxembourg in 1919
  • Spain in 193
  • France waited until 1944
  • Belgium, Italy, Romania, and Yugoslavia until 1946
  • Switzerland finally gave women the vote in 1971
  • Liechtenstein until 1984
  • In Canada women won the vote in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in 1916
  • but Quebec in 1940
  • Ecuador 1929
  • Brazil 1932
  • El Salvador 1942
  • Dominican Republic 1945
  • Guatemala, Argentina 1946
  • India in 1935
  • Philippines women received the vote in 1937
  • Japan in 1945
  • China in 1947
  • Indonesia in 1955
  • Liberia in 1947, Uganda 1958 and Nigeria 1960. 

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