Last week we marked 100 years since some women (those over 30 and with certain property qualifications) won the right to vote. It is hard to believe that it took decades of campaigning for this to be achieved and horrifying to reflect on the extreme lengths that so many brave women had to resort to in order to make their case and bring about change.
When Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, their motto was “deeds and not words”. The demand for voting rights did not start with the Suffragettes, as they became known, remarkable women had been campaigning for decades before but the WSPU took the campaign to a new level.
100 years on we have much to celebrate, not least the fact that 208 of 650 MPs in the House of Commons are women, but there are still many battles to fight as has been highlighted in recent months by the #metoo campaign against sexual harassment and the wave of demands for equal pay for women. In both these cases, women are taking action to bring attention to their cause. The resignation of the BBC’s China Editor, Carrie Gracie and the decision of those attending the Golden Globes last month to wear all black to highlight their cause being two cases in point.
It is fitting that we go out of our way to mark such turning points as the 1918 bill and take time to consider and celebrate the remarkable women who sacrificed so much in their fight for equality. It is, of course, however, deeply disappointing that the fight for gender equality is not yet over, and that in certain countries women are still treated as second class citizens.
The colour scheme of purple, white and green adopted by the WSPU represented purple for dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. I hope that all women across the globe get the dignity they deserve in being recognised as equal to men.
Cambridge University Library currently has a free exhibition of rare suffrage posters that have never previously been put on public display. The posters are on display in the University Library Entrance Hall from 3 February – 31 March.