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Celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote Posted On 18 April 2018

This year marks 100 years since women got the right to vote. Here we take a look at how the change came about

On 6th February 2018, it was the centenary anniversary of the Representation of the People Act. The legislation granted some, but not all, women in the UK the right to vote and while it marked an important beginning of a process, it was far from perfect.

The Act itself gave females the right to vote, but only if they were over the age of 30, owned property, were a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, or were a graduate in a university constituency – making it restrictive and selective.

However, credit must be given to the fact that the act helped to dramatically change the face of the electorate as according to the electoral register of the time, in spite of those limitations, the female proportion shot up to 43 per cent. Perhaps most significantly, it paved the way for the Equal Franchise Act a decade later: an extension of the Act from 1918, which gave all women over the age of 21 the right to vote, whether they were property owners or not.

How did the Act come into force?

The political reform of 1918 and 1928 came as a result of the Suffragette movement that was led by Emmeline Pankhurst, a British political activist. Fellow suffragette, Emily Davison, was knocked down by the King’s horse at Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913.

The campaigner for women’s right to vote died of her injuries four days later. Opinion is still divided over whether she meant to die on derby day or whether she was simply trying to disrupt the race to draw attention to the suffragettes’ cause. Several theories have been put forward, including accident, suicide, or an attempt to pin a suffragette banner to the king’s horse, although none has ever been proven.

However, despite the introduction of the Representation of the People Act, it took several other pieces of legislation in order for real social reform to be achieved in the UK, theoretically granting women rights on par with those enjoyed by men.

The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 stipulated that nobody could be disqualified from performing a public function, or from holding a civil or judicial office or post, because of their gender. But it wasn’t until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937 that women were given the same rights to divorce their husbands as the rights men had to divorce their wives.

In addition, women in the UK had to wait until 1970 for the government to introduce the Equal Pay Act, which made it illegal for employers to treat men and women doing an equivalent role differently when it comes to pay. However, despite these changes to law, even today there is still a widespread concern about unequal pay between men and women, with the spotlight having recently been on the BBC who had to publish the salaries of their highest paid actors and presenters.

As a result, all organisations in the country employing at least 250 people have to publish the gender pay gap of their company for all four quartiles of their workforce.

Did you know?

The first countries to grant women the vote in 1918 include Ireland and Azerbaijan

In the UK, only women over 30 who owned a property or had a university education were allowed to vote

Women didn’t gain the right to vote in Switzerland until February 1971, making it one of the last developed countries to adopt women’s unconditional suffrage

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