Rise Of The Suffragettes

When the first British women gained the right to vote in February 1918, celebrations were very muted because the Great War was still raging. Sylvia Pankhurst - in her book The Suffragette Movement - said: “the sorrows of the world conflict precluded jubilations”.

A century later, we should celebrate the triumph as fully as we can. However, women were not given the vote on the same terms as men until a decade after the act was passed; on 2nd July 1928 the Second Representation of the People Act was passed into law.  In a cruel twist of fate, Emmeline Pankhurst (the leader of the militant WSPU) died on the 14th June 1928 - just 18 days before equal suffrage rights were granted.

One victory led to another. The bar to women running for parliament was quickly removed, and the first female MP was elected that year (though, as an Irish republican, Constance Markievicz chose not to join the Commons). The next year, Lady Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in parliament.

Yet progress for women has often felt painfully slow. In 1982, when Harriet Harman was elected, there were still only 19 female MPs. The 2017 election was the first time more than 200 women were elected: 208 out of 650 seats. If you speak to female MPs, many worry about the murder of Jo Cox, the climate of vitriol on social media, sexual harassment and the difficulties balancing childcaring responsibilities with a political career, hence women who have no children are often over-represented at the top.

Here in Ipswich, ‘Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices’ are a group of women’s organisations who have come together to plan a Festival on the 6th October at Suffolk University, and are organising ‘EqualiTeas’ as part of the events leading up to the festival.  The festival will highlight and provide women with an opportunity to have access to local politics and democracy, and to encourage women to get involved and - most importantly - to register to vote.  

So true to the spirit of the suffragettes – who came from all kinds of political traditions – let us celebrate 100 years of the suffragette movement and all that it achieved.