Suffragette revolution has not finished yet

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My piece for the Evening News on the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act where some women were given the right to vote. 

You also read the piece on the Evening News website. 

“I would like to conclude by paying tribute to my mother, who taught me the values that I hold dear … I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the communities I represent in Edinburgh South do not suffer the excesses of Tory ideology again. I owe that to them, and I certainly owe it to my mother.”

This was part of the tribute I paid to my mother during my maiden speech in the House of Commons on 8 June 2010. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to our mothers and the women in our lives. And in this week, which marks 100 years since women in the UK got the vote, we should reflect and celebrate the contribution women make to our lives.

I watched the film “Suffragette” at the weekend. You can’t help but feel both moved and angry at the sacrifice the women in the Suffragette movement had to go through to get something as simple as the democratic right to vote.

It is hard to explain today, as I do often in local schools, that once there was a time when women did not have the vote. Yet of course there was such a time and it was only through the brave struggles of many campaigning women that the breakthrough finally came. Even then it was not universal suffrage with about 8.4 million women getting the vote. Full universal suffrage only came later, yet this was still a truly historic moment.

Many moments are commemorated but my favourite is the plaque in the broom cupboard of St Mary’s Undercroft in Parliament where Emily Davison hid. She was killed at the Derby horse race a matter of weeks later. However, women having the vote did not result in a huge increase in the number of women MPs. From the 1920s until the 1990s there were very few. It is only now that parliament is even getting close to equal representation.

The increased women’s representation in Parliament changed the national political conversation about politics and what politics should aim for. I also firmly believe that more women in the boardrooms of the past would have kept the economy more stable and less driven by testosterone.

So, great progress has been made, economically, politically and culturally. But of course it is an unfinished revolution.

Around the world and even in this country we see women trafficked and subject to sexual exploitation. We have seen the abuses of power recently exposed in many industries. We see the battle for equal pay still to be won. And we see a shortfall between the dream of equal opportunity and the reality of what women face in many other ways too.

Let’s also not forget that Edinburgh had a very strong Suffragette movement and 1909 saw one of the largest processions for the cause take place along Princes Street. The ensuing First World War robbed many families of their men but it also saw women stepping in to fill their shoes in the workplace, their loss ironically helping press the case for equality. 

The 100th anniversary is such a proud moment for us to celebrate the tremendous courage of those brave women who fought so hard for social change and the legacy they have left behind. As we celebrate these women, we should also look forward to the possibilities for the next 100 years and make 2018 a year of great achievement for women and girls everywhere.

Our challenge now must be to build on past achievements and push for full equality and protection for women: financially, in the workplace, in families and homes and in public life. To all the women in our lives – we salute and thank you.


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