Deeds Not Words

Women had argued for – and won – new rights in the 19th century. But without the vote, campaigners believed there was little incentive for politicians to improve the lot of women further.

Organised campaigns for women’s suffrage began to appear in 1866 and from 1888 women could vote in many local council elections. When parliamentary reform was being debated in 1867, John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment that would have given the vote to women on the same terms as men but it was rejected by 194 votes to 73. After this, the campaign gained momentum.

The suffragists and the suffragettes

The movement to gain votes for women had two arms: the suffragists and the suffragettes.

In 1897, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was formed under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett. The NUWSS wanted the vote for middle class property-owning women. They used peaceful tactics to campaign: non-violent demonstrations, petitions, the lobbying of MPs and, in 1913, a 5-week long pilgrimage to Hyde Park from all corners of the country.

Born out of the suffragist movement, came the suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Their name was courtesy of the Daily Mail newspaper, which coined the term ‘suffragette’ as a derogatory label for the more radical and militant members of the women’s suffrage movement.

In 1903 Mrs Pankhurst decided to break with the NUWSS and set up a separate society, to include younger and working class women. This became known as the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Their motto was “deeds not words” and violence, hunger strikes and law-breaking became part of their campaign tactics.

What happened in 1918?

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all men over 21, and to some groups of women over 30. Yet more than half of women still did not have a say in electing their government.

Campaigning would continue until 1928 when women were finally granted the vote on equal terms to men.

What is happening in 2018?

With the Hollywood-centred sexual harassment scandal breaking in October 2017 quickly spreading to more industries and countries, and the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings that gender parity is over 200 years away – there has never been a more important time to keep motivated & #PressforProgress, the 2018 International Women’s Day theme.

We know that gender parity won’t happen overnight (why not?) but the good news is that, although there is mixed progress across the world, women are making positive gains day by day. There is a very strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support. Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. A strong call to #PressforProgress. International Women’s Day (March 8 2018) is not country, group or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups, collectively everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. #Press for Progress.


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