Women’s suffrage: The seminal human rights struggle

6th February 1918 saw a bill passed in the UK parliament that brought some women the vote. Women’s suffrage had won the battle, but not the war. It was a seminal moment, and sent a signal that the status quo must change. The pressure that brought about the change didn’t happen overnight. It had taken decades to achieve, and would another ten years before true suffrage equality would be realised.

Fighting for your, or someone else’s, rights isn’t easy. It takes time and perseverance. You win some battles, and you lose some. But during the bad times it is important to remember that what is right always wins in the end.

It would take more struggle to get equal voting rights for women. The 1918 bill only gave women over 30 the vote. Even then only if they owned property, we’re married to someone who owned property, and rented somewhere costing over £5 a year, a sizeable amount back then. It would take another ten years for women to have the same voting rights as men.

Yet women’s suffrage is not something that only happened in the Edwardian era. That is what historians focus on, but it had been happening for a lot longer. In England, one of the earliest groups fighting for votes for women was in the mid 19th century.

Even after 1928 and equal voting rights, it would take until 1958 for women to be allowed into the UK Parliament’s upper house. It took the case of Margaret Haig Thomas, Viscountess Rhondda, the daughter of Viscount Rhondda, to right that injustice. She was barred from entering the House of Lords on her fathers death. He had no sons he hadn’t made a special request for her daughter to be able to take his title after he died.

Such clear discrimination based solely on a person’s sex seems ridiculous now, but the fight for equal women’s rights is far from over. The parallels between women’s suffrage and the recent “me too” campaign is striking. So too are the campaigns for issues like female genital mutilation (FGM) and abortion. If you thought these were issues that only affected countries other than the UK, think again.

Women’s struggle to be considered equal is ongoing. Yes it is a lot better than it was, but there’s a way to go yet. Campaigning on an issue takes guts and perseverance. It requires you to get up when you’re knocked down, dust yourself off, and go again. Perhaps it’s a thin line between one person’s freedom fighter and another’s terrorist, but ultimately you have to decide if an issue is worth campaigning for. Few would deny that women’s suffrage is an issue that should have been sorted earlier, but it took a long time to achieve.

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