By Donna Peacock, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in Sociology, Sunderland University
I am not celebrating yet. I do not wish to disrespect the women suffragists who endured brutal treatment, often amounting to torture, in the name of their (our) struggle. But I am not celebrating yet.
In 1918 The Representation of the People Act allowed votes for women, but not for all women, and not in parity with men. Propertied women aged over 30 were allowed to vote, and women graduates voting in their University constituency. Women were not given equal voting rights until 1928. It was said that this could not be given in 1918 as so many men had not returned from war, and giving all women the vote would have meant that women would make up the larger part of the voting population. So why not give the vote to the poor women instead? Or the young? Or those lacking the privilege to buy a University education. This was a cynical move designed to reinforce the hegemony of wealth and privilege, and to counter the impact of the extended rights given to men under the same act, whereby all men aged over 21 were allowed to vote. Allowing women of status to vote tipped the balance of power in favour of those with wealth against those without.
I am not celebrating yet, because what happened in 1918 reinforced the subjugation in wider society of the working class. The concessions that were given to the working class men on returning from war were taken away with the other hand by denying the same rights to their wives and daughters. The scales were rigged.
I find it hard to celebrate the winning of a battle for equality when the gender pay gap remains, when gendered violence remains, where men and women do not have equal parental rights, and where the intersectionality of inequality means that disabled women, BAME women, and working class women do not even share the privileges of other women in the same society.
Before I celebrate I would like to see a representative parliament (not just of gender but of ethnicity, age, class and disability) and votes for 16 year olds.
I am not celebrating 100 years of votes for women, I’ll celebrate that when it has been 100 years since all women could vote with equal rights to men. So excuse me for not celebrating. I feel we have a long way to go before I can celebrate. That does not mean that I don't remember, or that I don't honour, or applaud the women who sacrificed so willingly of themselves to promote a better and more equal society, because I do. They were demonised, brutalised, excluded, imprisoned and force-fed, and they were not deterred. They were a shining example to all of us who want a fairer society. I commemorate them, and I thank them, and I will use my vote in recognition of them.