Today marks 100 years since women were awarded the right to vote.
And that right certainly didn’t come easy.
Sadly despite our Suffragette sisters shedding blood, sweat and plenty of tears to enable future females to exercise their right to vote many women aren’t actually taking up the voting baton.
Before last year’s general election the Fawcett Society highlighted a potential “gender voting gap,” predicting that as many as eight million women would not head along to put their chosen X on their voting card.
According to the Women’s rights charity, an average of recent polling data shows that 2.5% fewer females said they were going to vote compared to their male counterparts.
And this downturn in female voting isn’t necessarily a new thing. Statistics gathered following previous elections revealed that more than nine million women failed to vote in the general election before last, compared to eight million men.
The study, carried out by the House of Commons Library at the request of the then Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, showed that 9.1 million women didn’t turn out to vote in 2010.
A further survey revealed that only 54% of 25-34 year-old women made it to the polling booths in the last general election meaning that millions of women’s thoughts, opinions and ambitions have gone unheard.
There’s little doubt the figures seem to highlight a downward trend in the numbers of women voting and suggest that the ‘turnout gap’ between the sexes is getting wider.
Our suffragette sisters would be turning in their graves!
Because as we’re remembering today the female vote wasn’t always a given. Before 1918, women played no role in national politics. It was assumed women would not need to vote because their men folk would handle anything politically orientated, while their wives took care of matters in the home and raised children.
Sounds pretty old-fashioned doesn’t it? But thankfully, in the early 20th century two groups of women were determined that women should play their part in parliamentary elections.
The ‘suffragists’ campaigned using peaceful methods, like lobbying, while their ‘suffragette’ counterparts were determined to win women’s right to vote by any means possible.
Their militant campaigning, which really took off in 1903 when Emmeline Pankhurst founded the women-only Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), encouraged women to abandon their ladylike tactics in favour of more forceful means.
These means sometimes included unlawful acts, like hunger strikes, which often put their own lives it risk. But it was those, often violent acts of raiding and window smashing, that attracted the most publicity and possibly helped to get the women’s right to vote partially achieved in 1918 with the Representation of the People Act, which allowed some women over the age of 30 to vote in national elections.
The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act followed later the same year and allowed women to stand as Members of Parliament.
But women were not able to vote on entirely equal terms until 1928, when the Equal Franchise Act was passed which finally allowed women to have the same voting rights as men.
So when you see everything that our our female ancestors went through to ensure we had the right to vote, it’s a little disappointing to learn that women today aren’t now choosing to exercise that vote.
But why are women turning their back on Politics?
For many women it’s about not feeling that their vote will make a difference, something that non-partisan campaign #SHEvotes wants to change.
“We really want to reframe it [political disengagement] and turn it on its head,” Fanny Calder, one of the organisers behind #SHEvotes told Huck Magazine. “We want to say that the fact that young women haven’t made a choice, that they’re not expected to vote, means that they absolutely have a massive impact.”
“Women are really more powerful than they think they are, if they and vote,” Fanny Calder continues.
Other women are choosing not to exercise their right to vote because they are feeling disillusioned by the whole idea of politics, particularly following recent events such as the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Others don’t realise that politics affects them. Because that’s the thing if you’d like to be able to get a foot on the property ladder in the next fifty years, feel strongly that you’re paid the same amount as your male colleagues, are angry that you can’t seem to find a work/life balance, then you need to vote to ensure that your opinions are heard.
In the words of Paloma Faith: “Women fought long and hard for us to have a voice. When you think of the suffragettes and hear what they fought for it sounds cheap to say I didn’t vote because nobody really appeals to me.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
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