This year we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Representation of People Act being passed in Parliament, giving women over 30 with their own property the right to vote. The women granted the vote would have to wait until the General Election in December 1918 to exercise their democratic right, and it would be another 10 years before women from all classes succeed in gaining equal voting rights to men. 100 years on, we as women are no longer bound by the stereotype of the homemaker and we have taken our position in the fields of business, politics, science, arts and sports, thanks to our grandmothers, mothers and aunts who fought throughout the 20th century for equal access to pay, education, health care and maternity rights.
However, despite all the victories, women are still fighting (just as the suffragettes fought) for the same level playing field as men. The 100 years anniversary has coincided as a timely reminder as issues with harassment in the workplace and the gender pay gap come into the spotlight.
The recent #MeToo movement highlighted the institutional sexual harassment and abuse women routinely face in the workplace. At least 1 in 5 women across the UK have reported some sort of harassment in their workplace, but over half didn’t report it due to intimidation or lack of acknowledgement by senior management. The threat of destroying hard won careers and reputations reinforces the silence that surrounds these crimes. The lack of women in senior management positions exacerbates the situation, with only 22% of women in senior roles in the UK.
The lack of women in senior management has also fuelled the other issue in the spotlight at the moment – the gender pay gap. It’s nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act, but the recent resignation of Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China Editor shows that women are still routinely not paid the same as men for the same work. The average female employee currently earns around 9.1% less per hour than the average male employee. Hardest hit by the gender pay gap are women returning from maternity leave or who have taken on the responsibility of childcare, seeking flexible working arrangements, such as part time work, who are likely to miss out on the benefits and the promotions that full time, permanent employment offers.
Women in decision making roles also still lags behind men. The representation of women in Parliament is currently only 32% of MP’s. Liverpool City Council fairs better, with 48% of women councillors. However, the balance of representation on the Liverpool City Region still requires work and is cause of concern to many, including me as the only woman on the board.
The achievement of the right to vote was the first step in realising true equality, but each generation continues to take a bigger step further. As the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst said, ‘Deeds, not words’, our daughters and nieces in our younger generation of women are utilising social media to make their point. The Reclaim the Night campaign in Liverpool, demonstrates how women can come together as a unity and be free from the fear of harassment and exploitation.
So today, let’s honour the women who won the battles, but let’s also celebrate all women who continue to take the next steps for equality in their workplaces, within their families and communities. While I remain an optimistic feminist, I hope it doesn’t take another 100 years for true equality.