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What would the suffrage campaigners make of the world today?

Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, stands next to a statue of Emmeline in Manchester. Credit: PA

As a statue marking the legacy of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst is unveiled in Manchester, her great-granddaughter Helen Pankhurst writes for ITV News on the new issues that women face - a century after they were granted the right to vote.

On the 14th December one hundred years ago, millions of women went out to vote for the first time.

Also for the first time, they could vote for women.

On this centenary, we celebrate and we give thanks to those who fought for our rights to be citizens, to be representatives, to be counted and to count. This moment falls at the end of a year of legal firsts; the Act signed on 6th February, 1918 that enfranchised some women - those over 30, with a university education or a property qualification - and then the Act of 21st November, 1918 that allowed women to stand for Parliament

Emmeline Pankhurst was famed for her work as a suffragette. Credit: AP

As we celebrate and give thanks, there is one question amongst many that I am often asked, namely what would the leaders of the suffragette campaign - Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, including my grandmother Sylvia - think of the progress we’ve made since then?

With this question in mind, I have listened, researched and recently published a book which looks at progress in terms of five different areas: politics, economics, identity, violence and culture.

Assessing the components of progress in this way is revealing.

  • How far have we got in politics?

 

Labour MPs gathered to celebrate 100 years of women suffrage earlier this year. Credit: PA

Clearly there has been progress. However, only 32% of MPs are women and they only make up 26% of Peers in the Lords.

Female politicians comment that political culture and policies are still for the most part ‘man-made’.

Although we have women at the very top, the structures of political power haven’t yet been transformed – nor do we have sufficient diversity of women representing differences of class, ethnicity, sexuality and so on.

  • How far have we got in the economic sphere?
  • A similar statue of Emmeline Pankhurst stands near to the Palace of Westminster in London. Credit: PA

    The median hourly pay for all employees is estimated to be 18% less for women than for men.

    We undervalue employment that is traditionally seen as ‘women’s work’.

    At the same time, parenting and caring is not equally shared, which affects attitudes of employers at work.

    Maternity-related discrimination is rife.

    The precariousness of work among the very poorest in society is disproportionately experienced by women while glass ceilings diminish women’s career progression.

    All of these factors, as well as traditions around inheritance, means that there continues to be a massive gender wealth gap.

    In economic terms, we are clearly not there yet.

  • What about women’s sense of self?
  • Thousands turned British cities into rivers of green, white and violet in June to mark 100 years since women won the right to vote. Credit: AP

    No doubt they have far more voice and agency - far more control over their own lives and their sexual and reproductive rights than the women of 1918.

    However, two aspects are still particularly worrying.

    First, women, at their core, are seen and often see themselves as relational, whereas men are generally seen and see themselves as autonomous.

    An elderly couple without children told me that the woman is always quizzed, the man never asked to explain why they are childless – the world relates to their status differently.

    More generally, women are expected to put their family first, men their work first – binary expectations that damage us all.

    Second, men are judged on their actions and statements; women are judged on their looks.

    We, as individuals, perpetuate this distinction, as do the products we buy; the films, music, plays and adverts we listen to and watch; the books and magazines we read.

    This results in a very narrow, idealised version of what women should aspire to look like.

    From speaking in schools I’ve come to realise that even very young girls now internalise this message, and social media magnifies the problem.

  • What about violence?
  • Demonstrators protested at the opening night of the film Suffragette in 2015 to draw attention to cuts to domestic abuse services. Credit: PA

    Do fewer women experience gender based violence these days? Do fewer women fear it?

    Again, we see progress in some areas, particularly around legislation and to some extent the availability of services, though austerity measures have undermined these.

    Domestic violence, though less normalised, is still a very real threat and abuse has morphed, re-emerging in the world of social media, where it is directed disproportionately at women – particularly women outside the dominant norm who dare to have a public voice.

    The MeToo campaign cast the spotlight on the universality of work place violence and sexual abuse - but also marked the turning of a tide, encouraging women to speak out and demand change.

    In the area of culture, the progress is much clearer.

    There are few public spaces that women can no longer enter and be involved in – including pubs and clubs and sports grounds, the traditional male bastions away from home.

    Women can be found directing films, plays, events.

    They are gaining influence in cultural institutions, in arts centres and in museums.

  •  

    Leading suffragettes in the dock at Bow Street court Credit: PA

    Almost across the board, cultural establishments have been resistant to change since 1918, yet in all spaces there have also been those with vision.

    For example, Lewes Football Club is the only football club in the world to pay its male and female players the same salary and allow them to use the same pitch.

    In the visual arts, this centenary year has also seen an attempt to counter the dominance of white men, including through the installation of statues of the suffrage campaigners.

The maquette sculpted by Hazel Reeves. Credit: Sue Anders Photography

Which brings me back to this date, the 14th December, 2018, when a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst sculpted by Hazel Reeves - and with credit to councillor Andrew Simcock who has driven the whole Our Emmeline initiative - has been unveiled in Manchester, her birthplace and the birthplace of the suffragette movement.

Thousands of people marched to St Peter’s Square for the unveiling; marching as did the suffragettes of old.

One hundred years ago, some women got the vote, but they had to wait another ten years for equal franchise. Since then, although the individual arc of women lives varies tremendously, it is clear that we are not there yet.

Armed with the lessons of history, and the commitment of the present, maybe, just maybe,we can radically improve the score across the board by 2028.

Here’s hoping and, together, working to that end.

Helen Pankhurst, right, accompanied by her daughter Laura, left, participating in a women's rights protest. Credit: AP

Helen Pankhurst is the author of Deeds Not Words, the Story of Women’s Rights,Then and Now. She is a women's rights activist and senior advisor to CARE International, and convenor of the Centenary Action GroupHer views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

http://www.itv.com/news/2018-12-14/what-would-the-suffrage-campaigners-make-of-the-world-today/

sarah Posted on December 15, 2018 11:02

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