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.
This is part of a short series celebrating the women’s organisations we love, and first up is The Rosa Fund.
Rosa is the UK’s first and only UK wide fund for women and girls. Their funds help to support initiatives that seek to improve the lives for women and girls in the UK. From their Voices From the Frontline fund, which supports charitable advocacy work, to their Woman to Woman fund supporting local grassroots women’s organisations, Rosa is supporting pioneering women to fight for change.
It’s also Rosa’s 10th birthday this year! A huge happy birthday to Rosa, keep up the awesome work!
I caught up with Samantha Rennie, Executive Director of Rosa, about what the centenary of women’s suffrage means for her and for Rosa.
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?
SR: The vote 100 years ago is a landmark and there hasn’t been any single change that happened that advanced women’s rights in the history of the world that hasn’t come about as a result of women getting together and organising, raising their voice and proactively seeking that change.
The next defining moment that comes to mind is the Barking and Dagenham strike, in which women walked out of Ford’s motor company in 1968. The result of this strike was the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. This was a huge legislative effort to balance the payment and working conditions between men and women workers.
However, not all defining moments in the history of women’s rights have been positive. The election of the latest, rather dodgy, US president has opened up some cracks we thought had been sealed.
SCA: How do you think the fight for women’s rights has evolved over the last 100 years? What do you see as the current battles vs the battles back then?
SR: One of the major shifts is that it’s become more inclusive, and we should celebrate that! Now we’re talking about women’s rights from an intersectional perspective. We’re looking at who’s not around the table, and who’s not on the picket line. For black women, for disabled women, LGBT women and older women – what does equality look like for them?
We’re starting to acknowledge the fact that women have been written out of history for far longer than 100 years, and we’re recognising that we need to consciously write them back into history.
At Rosa, we’re the first and only UK wide fund for women and girls. We’re particularly concerned for those women who miss out the most, and we assist to mobilise resources to help out women organisations both grassroots and nationally.
Within these groups we seek those who have the least voice, who are the least noticed, the least involved, and we support them to amplify their voices.
What do you think the feminist movement / women’s movement now could learn from the suffragettes/suffragists?
SR: Be brave, be brave and be bold! We need to see more bravery. People are afraid of speaking out. We can see the power of people speaking out all around us. Take a look at the #metoo movement. It developed from people speaking out to TimesUp, an organisation which has created a legal fund for women to have equality in the workplace.
What are your hopes for the next 100 years for women?
SR: My hope is that there won’t have to be any more women’s organisations fighting for justice. I believe the future should be woman shaped. At the moment, women don’t fit into so many of the systems and structures that are clearly not made for them. Look at anything today: travelling, working, prison, mental and physical health. Two thirds of the world’s work is carried out by women, but how much of it is paid work? Work is defined according to a male definition of it. What’s good for women is good for everyone. Gender equality isn’t a zero sum game – having equality for women doesn’t mean less equality for men. The more people understand this, the closer we will get to achieving our ideal world.
We celebrate women’s equality every day at Rosa. We celebrate all of the work that the incredible women’s organisations are doing day in, and day out to bring a better world.
Rosa’s Voices From the Frontline grant will be taking applications in a few months. You can take a read of the grant here: