As part of Hansard Society Scholars summer course, Inside Westminster, summer 2018 scholar Alicia Zhang wrote a piece on women's rights and the 'Vote 100' celebrations in Parliament this year. She reflects on how far the movement has come, and how far it still has to go.
Since the eviction of Adam and Eve, women have struggled to receive equal status to men. Faced with adversity in the forms of traditional customs and blunt sexism, as exhibited predominantly in the post-WWII era by the role of women in the households, women around the world have attempted and succeeded to gain rights already held by men. The most successful of these movements is the women's suffrage movement which culminated in Britain and the US in the years leading up to the turn of the 20th century. Finally, in 1918 British women gained the right to vote with the passing of the Representation of the People Act, with their American counterparts receiving similar rights only two years later. (1)
The remarkable coalescence of previously suppressed women is commemorated this year - the 100th anniversary of the People Act. Within Westminster, Parliament has introduced a series of programmes and events, under the catch-all title of ‘Vote 100,’ to highlight this momentous occasion. Such events include EqualiTeas, a discussion of democracy within Parliamentary offices accompanied by teas, cakes, and sandwiches, and a breakfast hosted in the historic Westminster Hall, attended by important Parliamentary figures, including PM Theresa May. (2)
...the celebrations that characterise this year should not overcast the continuation of the movement.
Although underscored, the celebrations that characterise this year should not overcast the continuation of the movement. Despite political gains, women are still being suppressed, as evidenced by the continuation of the gender wage gap, the March for Women, and the recent emergence of the '#metoo' movement. Once again, women are uniting across the world to address concerns about equality, which has led to some successful results, such as the condemnation of high-profiled figures in both politics and entertainment. What characterises this period of women’s rights movement is the increased prevalence of women in political offices. Although still not at the optimal equal level, the presence of women in political offices, such as PM Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Markel, and former US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, can engender more efficient, effective, and substantial change. Indeed, female representatives in government are more likely to support women’s issues, defined as the efforts to increase equality for women, addressing the unique needs of women, or confronting issues that appeal to women’s traditional role as caregivers, by virtue of their inclusion in the same societal category. (3) A prime model, the government of Sweden labels itself proudly as a 'feminist government,' where female representatives are nearly proportional to male representatives, and gender equality is at the centre of its policy-making ('gender mainstreaming'). (4)
The continuation of the struggle of women since our genesis does not dismiss the merit of celebrating women’s suffrage. Instead, this observance should be used as a prominent platform to accentuate and elevate the women’s rights movement. Supporters of women’s rights are already coalesced in the celebration of our successes so far, which gives substantial momentum for continued discussion and progress in the movement for women’s rights and representation. Let’s optimize it.
- Haynes, Suyin. “British Women’s Suffragette Movement: 100 Years of Lessons.” Time, Time, 6 Feb. 2018.
- “Events.” Vote 100, 26 Jan. 2018.
- Barnello, Michelle, and Kathleen Bratton. 2007. “Bridging the Gender Gap in Bill Sponsorship.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 3(August): 449-474; Carroll, Susan. 2000. “Representing Women: Congresswomen’s Perceptions of Their Representational Roles.” April 13; Swers, Michele. 2002. The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- "A Feminist Government." Regeringskansliett.
Alicia studied with Hansard Society Scholars on the Summer 2018 programme. She finished out her summer conducting research for her thesis on climate-induced migration and doing a bit more traveling before returning for her third year at Washington University in St. Louis where she studies International Affairs, Psychology, and Economics.