As I’m sure you’re aware, it is 2018. Something you may not be aware of, however, is that this year marks one hundred years since the beginning of female suffrage in Britain; the 1918 Representation of the People Act was the first British legislation that allowed women the right to vote. This undoubtedly should be celebrated as the ground-breaking legislature that it was. However, this act didn’t encompass all women; it introduced voting rights, but only for those over the age of 30 who met certain property qualifications. Clearly women’s rights have come a long way in the last one hundred years. It seems fitting in the face of this anniversary to review some of the important milestones for female equality achieved in the last century in the UK.
1918: Along with the Representation of the People Act, 1918 saw the Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act, enabling women to stand as MP’s.
1928: It took a further ten years of suffrage campaigning for women to gain electoral equality in Britain; the 1928 Equal Franchise Act gave all women over the age of 21 the right to vote, regardless of property ownership.
1941: The National Service Act introduced conscription for women; unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 30 were called up for war work. This was later extended to include women up to the age of 43.
1965: Barbara Castle was appointed Minister for Transport, becoming the first female minister of state.
1970: The Equal Pay Act made it illegal to pay women lower rates than men for doing the same work. The act covered both direct and indirect discrimination. This legislation was arguably a direct result of the women’s strike action in 1968 at a Ford factory in Dagenham. Sewing machinists went on strike after discovering they were paid 15% less than men whose jobs were officially the same skill level. These strikes almost stopped production at all UK Ford plants. A film adaptation of these events called ‘Made in Dagenham’ was made in 2010 if you’re interested!
1979: Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
1980: Until as late as 1980 women could be refused a loan or credit card without a male guarantor. Prior to this, women were considered to be risker investments than men; they therefore had to get their father or husband to sign for them.
1993: The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women acknowledged that violence against women violates their basic human rights. This aimed to counter the widespread view that violence against women is a domestic matter which shouldn’t require state intervention.
This timeline is not exhaustive but hopefully demonstrates some of the key milestones achieved in the last one hundred years in Britain. Since 1993, amongst other things, we have seen more women elected to positions of power, laws protecting global women’s rights, and celebrations of being female, in the form of events such as the UN Day of the Girl, which began in 2012. While these accomplishments should definitely be celebrated, it is important to be aware of certain issues that still face women today.
For Britain, and indeed the world, an example of this is the gender pay gap. It is important to note that the gender pay gap is not defined as unequal pay, where men and women are paid differently for performing the same work. The gender pay gap is actually the difference in the average hourly wage of all men and women across a workforce. In other words, if women generally do more less well-paid jobs, the gender pay gap will be high.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission made it compulsory for UK private, public, and voluntary sector employers with 250 or more employees to disclose their gender pay gap information to the government in 2018. The deadline was 30th March for the public sector and 4th April for the private and voluntary sectors. This will now be a yearly occurrence. This data showed that when looking at median hourly gender pay gap, 78% of companies pay men more than women. Firms were also required to disclose differences in bonuses paid to men and to women; the finance sector had the biggest bonus gap with women being paid on average 35% less than men. These figures have clearly revealed an issue of structural inequality of opportunity for women. This exercise will hopefully influence big firms to consider barriers to women’s progression in the workplace.
This is just one example of an obstacle encountered by modern women, and indeed a far less direct example than many problems faced by women in non-Western countries. Saudi Arabia, for example only granted women the right to vote in 2015, whilst women and girls all over the world face violence and discrimination as a result of their gender on a day-to-day basis. So while we are, and indeed should be, celebrating one hundred years since some British women gained the right to vote, we must not forget the issues still faced by women, not only in Britain but across the world.
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