Suffragettes 100: From the House - Fight for equality continues today


- Credit: Supplied by Tulip Siddiq

In the past year, we have seen a swelling of outrage to push for true equality for women across a wide range of industries.

For too long, cases of sexual harassment have persisted without consequence and a culture of misogyny has been allowed to thrive. The upsurge in frustration that powers the contemporary feminist movement echoes throughout history, not least in 1918, the year in which the Representation of the People Act was won by the suffragettes.

That Act of Parliament was a seismic victory, ensuring the right to vote was extended to women over 30 who owned property. Though full franchise would take a further 10 years to achieve, I believe it is important to celebrate the progress of 100 years ago because of the trajectory it established and the ethos of those that secured the victory.

In recent months, a uniting message for those dismayed by the endless wave of allegations has been to say: “Time’s up”. It is a mantra that can be found across the ages. For the suffragettes, it took shape as an unrelenting campaign against those who supported the exclusion of women from the democratic process.

Though the victory of 1918 was by no means final, I hope that women today can use this anniversary to commit to further involving themselves in today’s political arena. At a minimum, this means actualising our responsibility to exercise the civic duty that was secured through the sacrifices of the generations before us. The first opportunity to do so will be in May’s local elections. Beyond voting, I hope that the centenary encourages waves of younger women to stick their head above the parapet and have the confidence to seek leadership positions in whatever field they have made their careers.

About 20 years ago, my motivations for entering politics were shaped in part by one woman who did exactly that, Barbara Castle. Barbara was a trailblazing Labour minister who triumphed in a male-dominated era to establish the Equal Pay Act, benefitting millions of women across the UK. In my role as an MP, I have the privilege of visiting plenty of young women at our local schools. I want to be able to tell them with confidence that British society is one in which they will be uninhibited by their gender, and in which they will be free from discrimination.

At present, I cannot truthfully say this. We still have a gender pay gap, economic policies penalise women disproportionately, and we still have obscene rates of violence against women. I firmly believe that greater female participation in our political system, our media, and key industries is the answer to changing the status quo.

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Men have their role to play too, and I hope this anniversary will prove as inspiring to them as it will to young women. We need a society in which equality of opportunity is the norm and this will be impossible to achieve without the support of our male colleagues, relatives, and friends.

The Suffragette Movement was a nationwide struggle, and last week I honoured one of our local connections. Eva Gore-Booth was an Irish suffragette whose campaigns were responsible for aligning the struggles for women’s rights in industry and their right to vote in the UK. She is buried in Hampstead and I was joined the president of Ireland, Frances O’Grady of the TUC, and local councillors with links to Ireland, to lay a wreath at Eva’s grave.

I’m proud the suffragette spirit still lives on in our own constituency, and I hope their individual acts of heroism go on to inspire future generations of women in Hampstead and Kilburn.