Three years ago, we celebrated the eight hundredth anniversary of Magna Carter. While the document itself meant nothing to anyone except a handful of barons, it symbolised the start of a movement away from an absolute monarchy and towards democracy. The news last week that the Welsh Government will be trialing giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote at local elections is simply the latest phase in the long march of suffrage.
Yesterday marked an important anniversary in that long history, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. The Act gave women the vote for the first time, but even then only for those aged over 30 and with property. It would be another decade before women got the right to vote on equal footing with men.
This change hadn’t come about easily, suffragettes had literally lost their lives, most notably Emily Wilding Davison who died after throwing herself under the King’s horse in an act of protest.
Yet, extension of the franchise was not simply the result of protest, it was part of a wider shift in societal norms stemming from WWI, with the huge contribution of women undertaking war work challenging sexist beliefs around capability and gender.
Despite the progress made over the decades, women still lack full equality in our society. Labour are committed to tackling this inequality, almost every law which has sought to do so was passed under a Labour Government and plans are in place to move things forward, both locally and nationally.
Yesterday, Labour unveiled a year long campaign commemorating the 100th anniversary of the extension of the electoral franchise to women and exploring what can be done next to move towards full equality.
Since 2010, cuts to public services and social security have fallen harder on women. At the same time women face increasing harassment and discrimination, only just reaching public debate through developments such as the #MeToo campaign.
For Labour in government, strengthening legislation around sex discrimination and tackling the structural and economic barriers which hold women back will be a priority. A century on from suffrage, there’s still work to do.
Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council