Tuesday, 6 February 2018

A very significant day for all women

As both a woman and a politician I am acutely aware of the privileges I hold by virtue of when I was born and what I owe to those who have come before me.

This week holds a very significant day for all women - the 6th February.

A date which has real significance for all women because of what it led to.

100 years ago when the 1st World War was coming to a close, an Act of Parliament was passed known as the Representation of the People Act 1918 – 4th Reform on the 6th February.

It acknowledged that all men over 21 should have the vote; at the start of World War 1 only 60% of the men had the right to vote so millions of men returning from the 1st World War, many with life changing injuries mental and physical, would have had not had a vote.

Included in the Act was the right for Women over the age of 30, or if married or a member of the local Government Register or home-owner, could vote – not true parity but a start anyway. In November of that year was a qualification for Women to stand as MPs and councillors.

The significance of this was giving women a political voice as well as a vote. One without the other simply wouldn't work.

The legacy of World War 1 was not only that we remained as a free nation, but it changed the social order and this Act of Parliament was the first step in how our world has changed. In the 1st World War women became a more visible part of society. They were driving our buses, working our land, they were on the production line in our factories, another kind of front line.  Women played an important  part on the home front and it is right their work was acknowledged by having the vote.

The Act was passed by 385 to 55 not unanimous!

On the 1st December 1919 Nancy Astor became the first woman to take a seat as an MP, it must have been quite something to be the only women amongst more than 500 MPs at the time.

At West Sussex County Council two women were elected to the County Council in 1919; Ellen Chapman from Worthing and the Honorable Evelyn Gladys Cecil from Bognor Regis. I can only imagine the stir that must have caused in the Council Chamber!

Over the years more women County Councillors have come forward from all parties, but at present we are still no way near 50% representation or 35 Women – in May 2017, 22 women were elected.

In 2001, when I was elected on to the County Council we elected a woman Chairman for the first time, the Late Margaret Johnson, an exemplary County Councillor and role model. She encouraged and supported all the new councillors and was very kind making sure all women councillors settled into their roles.

Today we have made such great strides, it is rare I consider my gender as I make decisions, set strategy or plan a way ahead, it is rare but it is not non-existent. With the crucial roles women play in every day life it is of paramount importance that we continue to make sure our voice is heard, in parliament, industry, health across all the employment areas. That's why I have been so insistent that a celebration of the suffrage movement must not be a look back but a push forward to make sure we make the powers women in history fought so hard for, continue to mean something today.

Best wishes,

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