A century has passed since the suffragette movement, and the fight for equality is far from over, writes Emelia Hamilton-Russell
It’s 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which first gave some women – those over the age of 30 who owned land or property – the vote. The act came as a result of a campaign which saw women repeatedly risking, or in the case of Emily Davidson, losing their lives for equality.
For anyone following the news it might appear that there is another revolution underway. In reverse order, the last couple of months have seen the President’s Club exposé, BBC women fighting for equal pay, the #metoo campaign and the high-profile takedown of Hollywood’s arch-pervert Harvey Weinstein. It seems as if no major institution is free from sex-pests or some form of discrimination, and, despite the watershed, there is still a long way to go. Donald Trump, pussy-grabber-in-chief, sits in the Oval Office, women in Northern Ireland still cannot access safe and legal abortion, and two women each week die at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.
Economic oppression was also on the agenda for the suffragettes. A century on, and a study by the Fawcett Society found that women make up only 27.7 per cent of FTSE 100 board members (that’s roughly in line with the Spear’s wealth management index, where women make up 26 per cent). The same Fawcett Society study showed that the pay gap stands at 13.9 per cent for full time work.
Yet full time work is often unfeasible for women with children. The soaring cost of childcare means that it’s more financially prudent to leave work and care for children than to employ a nanny, or enrol in an expensive nursery. To compound matters, the Fawcett Society also tells us that a woman’s future wages will fall by 4 per cent for each year that she is not in work. The prognosis is bleak: her pension pot will suffer.
But in spite of all that, we can say unequivocally that there’s never been a better time to be a woman. Girls outdo boys in every subject you can think of at school, women outnumber men in universities, and many – the lucky ones who earn more than £30,000, or who have a partner who can support them – do go on to combine childcare with success in the workplace. Helena Morrissey, the new poster-girl for working women, managed to juggle veritable world domination (she had £53 billion under management) with nine children. While this brand of reporting often suggests that women have become a super-species, outperforming their male counterparts on every front, Morrissey makes sure to stress the heroism of her husband Richard, who left his job as a financial journalist and took charge of the domestic sphere.
In 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst said: ‘I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers…’ And although Carrie Gracie changing jobs – or Richard Morrissey giving up his – can hardly be compared to Emily Davidson’s deadly dash in the Epsom Derby, the mood in 2018 is of rebellion and, hopefully, of reform.
Emelia Hamilton-Russell is a writer at Spear’s