Welcome to the third blog in our series celebrating the 100 years of (some) women’s suffrage.
This year marks a landmark year. This time, 100 years ago, a law was passed to allow some women to vote. The Representation of the People act of 1918 allowed for men and women over the age of 30 to vote.
We’re under no illusion about the limitations of the act. Women had to meet a property qualification in order to be eligible to vote. It really only opened the doors to some of the UK’s most elite women to have their say.
Yet, as we all know in our current battles for equality, change comes slowly. This act was a key milestone that enabled universal suffrage in 1928.
So, to mark this occasion, and to celebrate some of the incredible work that women’s organisations are doing now, we have interviewed some awesome women’s organisations all fighting for the same values of justice that the suffragettes held with bravery and boldness.
In our last two pieces we interviewed The Rosa Fund about their hopes for the next 100 years in women’s rights (you can read it here), and we spoke to Women for Refugee Women about the women who are still excluded from the vote (you can read the piece here).
In this piece, we’ll be speaking to an organisation that works tirelessly to protect and help some of the most marginalised women in our society, Agenda.
Agenda – Alliance for Women and Girls at Risk – campaigns for the improvement of systems that support women and girls at risk. They campaign to promote a public and political understanding of the lives of women and girls facing multiple disadvantages.
I caught up with Katharine Sacks-Jones, Director of Agenda, about what the centenary of women’s suffrage means to her and for the organisation:
SCA: This month marks a historic moment for women. One hundred years ago, it was written into law that some women could vote. In the time ensuing, we’ve had battle after battle for women’s rights. What do you think – outside of this landmark event – has been a defining moment in the history of women’s rights in the last 100 years?
KSJ: If we look back to 100 years ago, so much has changed. The progress we have made in such a short period of time has been phenomenal! Back then, the law allowed some women to vote. Now, women have equal voting rights to men. We have increased labour rights with the passing of the Equal Pay Act. We have reproductive rights. There was the birth of the refuge movement, where women fleeing domestic abuse were given shelter. It was only in the early 1990s that marital rape was made a crime. So much has changed. And behind all of these changes have been incredible women campaigners fighting day in, day out for our rights.
While this is a positive story of change, this isn’t to say that there aren’t many challenges facing women in today’s society. In Ireland, for example, women still don’t have access to abortion. It’s still the case that most positions of power are occupied by men and there a huge pay gap across all sectors. It’s particularly depressinng that sexual violence, harassment and abuse of women is still prevalent. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner – that statistic hasn’t shifted. We’re still faced with some real challenges, and within that, some groups of women face more challenges – migrant women and working class women for example. We need an inclusive feminist movement now which advocates for all women – especially the most disadvantaged.
SCA: How do you think the fight for women’s rights has evolved over the last 100 years?
KSJ: I think that, while the nature of the challenge changes, what underpins those challenges is the same. Ultimately, women are still not equal to men in so many spheres of life, and this underpins the challenges that face and have faced women historically – although they manifest themselves in different ways.
SCA: Do you see the women’s as fragmented? What do you think needs to happen for the movement to be effective over the next 100 years? What are Agenda doing to help make that happen?
KSJ: I think the feminist movement has far more in common than divides us. The challenges and fights across the movement, while they may look different in different places, share the same commonalty. We need to focus on that, and push forward a feminism that’s inclusive and about all women. We need need to focus on the bigger picture and the bigger battles, and not on the divisions on ideology and theory.
I hope what agenda is doing is giving a voice to some of the most marginalised women. Women who experience abuse, poverty, addiction. Women who are excluded from so much of society, who face extreme inequality. Agenda is giving them a platform to use their voices, to help create change, so that they can have brighter futures.
SCA: What do you think the feminist movement / women’s movement now could learn from the suffragettes?
KSJ: Within the movement for women’s suffrage there were so multiple approaches to how they achieved change. But there was a focus on an end goal, and a commonality on what needed to happen. There’s room within the movement to have different approaches to change, but there needs to be a shared vision of where you want to get to.
I believe the movement now should be respecting the diversity of experience and the multitude of voices while recognising and remembering the shared battles and challenges we face. But we also need to recognise that inequality doesn’t affected everyone to the same levels. Some groups of women face far more inequalities than other groups of women. At Agenda, we are particularly concerned with those who face the greatest inequality.
SCA: What are your hopes for the next 100 years for women?
KSJ: If you look at how far we’ve come, the potential for what we can achieve is really great. We need to be making progress on violence against women and girls. This is still a huge issue both in the UK and across the world. In the next 100 years, I hope that violence against women and girls becomes a thing of the past.
I also think we need to be putting greater efforts into tackling gender norms and stereotypes. In some areas we’re making leaps in this, and in other areas we’re going backwards. The sexualisation of young girls, for example, is becoming worse than it used to be. We need to tackle that.
And, finally, there needs to be a greater awareness of gender and how it shapes experiences. We want to see this awareness in the services and systems that are set up to protect women and girls.