This week we celebrated the centenary of women getting the vote. The Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchised 8.4 million women over the age of 30 who had property and was the start of the process for all women to get the vote.
As I pointed out on the Adam Boulton debate on TV, we have a lot to thank the Suffragettes for, but cannot pretend that the job has been completed. You can see the debate here.
Labour has a strong record of advancing women’s rights and freedoms that we can be proud of. Almost every major piece of legislation that has improved the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour government.
Our challenge now must be to build on past achievements and push for full equality and protection for women: financially, in the workplace, in families and homes and in public spaces.
Many policies introduced by this government are turning back the clock on equality for women. Cuts to public services and social security are landing disproportionately on women. Women are facing unacceptable levels of sex discrimination, harassment, misogyny and violence but the government have taken limited action to improve gender equality and ensure better access to justice.
Labour in government will strengthen legislation around sex discrimination and introduce policies to tackle the structural and economic barriers that stop women from reaching their full potential.
I enjoyed persuading the Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd to join me in congratulating the Labour Women’s Network and Fabian Women for the great work they do in supporting women to enter public life. You can see our exchange here.
For all the enormous progress that has been made in recent years to make Parliament more representative of the country it serves, there is still a marked deficit. For instance, 51 per cent of the population are women yet there are twice the numbers of men than women elected in parliament.
Since 1918, just 489 women have been elected as Members of the House of Commons. At the last election there were only an additional 12 women elected – at the current rate it will take 50 years to achieve gender equality in Parliament.
Labour is seeking to secure gender equality among our MPs in Parliament as soon as possible. That is why in 2017 it was agreed that candidates for 46 of Labour’s top 76 target seats will be picked from all-women shortlists.
Labour wants to make sure every woman in this country has their voice heard, and is able to participate fully and equally across society.
This centenary serves as an important reminder that the right to vote has been hard won, so while we celebrate this important anniversary, I urge everyone to encourage someone new to register to vote and to use your vote whenever the opportunity arises. You can register to vote here.