Welcome to the second 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 piece we interviewed The Rosa Fund about their hopes for the next 100 years in women’s rights (you can read it here).
In this piece, we’ll be speaking to one of the grassroots organisations that we at The Social Change Agency love.
Women for Refugee Women is a small charity, built from the grassroots, that connects refugee and asylum seeking women with each other. They support and empower women seeking asylum through regular meetups, English classes, drama and advice on immigration and housing. They undertake research to help shape and influence policy, and they host regular events providing the space for refugee and migrant women to share their experiences.
I caught up with Samantha Hudson, Communications Executive at Women for Refugee Women 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. How do you think this landmark event has been a defining moment in the history of women’s rights in the last 100 years?
SH: We’ve been thinking a lot about the centenary of some women’s suffrage recently, and what this means to women who still don’t have the right to vote – like asylum seeking, refugee and some migrant women. The women we work with saw so many parallels between the suffragettes’ struggles and their own. The suffragette movement not only defined history, but it’s defining the present.
SCA: How do you think the fight for women’s rights has evolved/shifted over the last 100 years?
SH: In recent years, the space is opening up for less privileged women to speak out about their experiences. It’s positive, but there’s a really long way to go. The #metoo movement gained so much traction because it was headed by some of the most privileged women. And by starting these conversations, some of the women we’re working with felt empowered to speak up about sexual violence and harassment they had faced. This is a huge deal, because often women with insecure immigration statuses feel they aren’t able to report crimes because they’re worried they’ll be passed onto immigration enforcement or that their stories will not be believed.
I hope that the women’s movement will start listening to these voices too, and become more inclusive, because these women are ready to speak.
SCA: Do you see the women’s/feminist movement as fragmented? What do you think needs to happen for the movement to be effective over the next 100 years?
SH: I do think right now the women’s movement is still quite fragmented. We have a real opportunity to use the momentum from the women’s movement – the power of the Women’s March and #metoo movement – to create something that’s more inclusive and gives women with different experiences an opportunity to speak and be part of the broader movement.
As Audre Lorde famously said: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different to my own”.
Glass ceilings are important but I think the women’s movement needs to be about so much more. It needs to work as a whole to become more inclusive and, ultimately, be more effective.
At Women for Refugee Women we are organising a mass lobby of Parliament on 8 March, called #AllWomenCount. The aim is to give refugee and migrant women an opportunity to speak to their MPs and to build relationships with them. Because even – or especially – if they aren’t able to vote, the policies created have a huge impact on them.
We’re working in cross-sector partnerships with a range of organisations, to bring everyone together and to really give refugee and migrant women the opportunity to call for equal safety, dignity and liberty.
SCA: What do you think the women’s movement now could learn from the suffragettes/suffragists?
SH: Persistence. The suffragettes were incredibly organized and really, really persistent. There are still women who are very much in a similar position to the suffragettes, so if we can bring some of the suffragette-level of organisation to make space for women who don’t have vast opportunities, that would be great.
SCA: What are your hopes for the next 100 years for women?
SH: In the next 100 years, I hope that women will no longer face sexual harassment. I hope we will be able to speak equally and not be set back by all these unwritten prejudices. I hope that refugee and migrant women will be able to tell their stories and have their stories believed. I hope that we won’t be locking up women who are seeking safety in the UK in detention centres. I hope that women who have an insecure immigration status will be able to report crimes and expect to receive the same safety as other women. And, finally, I hope that the whole movement can come together and make sure this movement is about all women, not just the most privileged.