It’s International Women’s day this week and there are tributes to women the world over. It does seem amazing that in 2012 a women’s day is still relevant, I mean, imagine an International Men’s Day? The sad truth is that it is needed, which is why I support Womankind through this web site (10% of any income generated via the site is donated to Womankind)
I was one of the first generation to be able to vote at 18 and I have never missed an election since. I always vote. And I am aware that one of the reasons I have the vote is because women like Emmeline Pankhurst made it her business and her passion to secure the vote for women. “Deeds not words” was her motto and she certainly had the courage of her convictions.
In 1906 Emmeline Pankhurst organised a huge rally in Caxton Hall, and a deputation went to the House of Commons to demand the vote. She later wrote about this in her autobiography, My Own Story (1914):
“Those women had followed me to the House of Commons. They had defied the police. They were awake at last thev were prepared to do something that women had never done before – fight for themselves. Women had always fought for men, and for their children. Now they were ready to light for their own human rights. Our militant movement was established.”
Of course, she caused controversy, even within her own supporters: her willingness to accept a limited franchise was criticised and I certainly wouldn’t have signed up to some of her later ideas, but I do admire her courage.
In 1917 Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst formed The Women’s Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (1) A fight to the finish with Germany. (2) More vigorous war measures to include drastic food rationing, more communal kitchens to reduce waste, and the closing down of nonessential industries to release labour for work on the land and in the factories. (3) A clean sweep of all officials of enemy blood or connections from Government departments. Stringent peace terms to include the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire.
The Women’s Party also supported: “equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits.” Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions.
In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to women over the age of 30. In 1928 this right was extended to women over 21, the same age than men were allowed to vote.
Despite her socialist upbringing Emmeline moved further to the right eventually joining the Conservative party. She died just short of her 70th birthday in 1928.
She was a complicated woman but one who was true to herself and I and millions of women, are still reaping the benefits of her actions today. Thanks to you suffragettes everywhere.
You might also enjoy ‘More Women Please‘.
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Posted on March 5th, 2012 by Jane