By Campaign Agent Michelle Blick
The 6th February 2018 marks a century since the remarkable achievement of women receiving voting rights. Enfranchisement was arguably the most monumental turning point in the history of the women’s feminism movement. So why are women globally still marching to demand fundamental rights, otherwise innate to their male counterparts?
On Sunday 21st January, globally, women assembled in the thousands. In the UK this was branded as the ‘Time’s Up’ march , as a stand against inequalities ranging from underrepresentation, to sexual harassment (sparked by the wave of scandals in Hollywood and beyond). Placards featured on social media, read statements such as ‘If you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women’ and ‘Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie. ’In the USA, similar sentiments were expressed, however additionally , an anti-trump feel was also ingrained in the message. This followed on from the 2017 march which followed Trump’s inauguration and therefore became heavily associated with Trump criticism. This year placards featured phrases such as ‘ Hey Trump ! Women are people too.’
This march took place 100 years on from the year 1918, which marked as many as 6-8million women over thirty, who met certain property-owning qualifications, gaining the right to vote through the ‘Representation of the People Act’. First wave feminism in the UK was most famously lead by the Pankhursts and the likes of Emily Davison, both of whom participated with a militant approach, ranging from marches, to damage of public property to life threatening stunts. The vote was just the beginning. Despite the monumental successes of the suffragette movement inequalities still exist one hundred years later. The proposed contemporary issues raised, may explain this: from lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement to unchanging attitudes surrounding feminism and even reversal of equality advances.
Lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement is one of the many driving forces of the Women’s march. The traditional feminism movement initially abandoned the importance of intersectionality, as advances such as gaining the vote were viewed as successes in isolation. Nevertheless, the vote granted in 1918 did not necessarily extend to lower class women or black women. Isolation of lower class women was ensured as the act stated that only women of property could receive the franchise. Additionally, despite black men receiving voting rights, there’s little evidence that the 1918 act advanced the rights of black women in any way. This suggests that the grassroots feminism movement was built on advancing the rights of middle class white women in particular. Evidence of this can still be highlighted today in the superfluous nature of certain aspects of the feminist movement such as heavy focus on movements such as ‘free the nipple’, whereas black women are still fighting for more basic rights such as representation in positions of power such as in politics . Since 1987 a shocking 9/650 MP’s elected have been black women, whilst well over 100 white women are generally elected.
The total figure of women in parliament can also show the systematic institutionalised underrepresentation of women in government and additionally high-power positions. In addition to this, gendered pay gaps are still present with a 18.1 % difference in 2016. Despite governmental pledges to close pay gaps, it is still necessary for women to demonstrate to ensure these promises are met.
Moreover, many women marching on Sunday were marching against sexual harassment. Throughout his presidency, recordings of Donald Trump have surfaced, with him making inappropriate statements that have been deemed as sexual harassment. Along with allegations from various women, many have wondered if the president is normalising such unacceptable behaviour , thus reversing advances made by women. Moreover, Hollywood has seen a flood of sexual harassment allegations by high profile figures.These have sparked controversy over the ability of men in high power positions to take advantage of women and not face the consequences. Also highlighting that equality may be reversing, quietly behind the scenes.
Marching has long been a form of dissent and advocacy, but the question is always raised. Does marching work? History says yes. In the US civil rights movement, constitutional changes were arguably a result of continuous marches lead by the likes of Martin Luther King. Raising awareness not only of the issues but also the devastating effects is imperative. Many are not aware of the inequalities as they are sometimes hidden, especially to children and teenagers. Furthermore, a number of people , most notably men, do not realise the impact of these inequalities unless they are continuously reminded, and spectacles are made. Violence is certainly not the answer, but peaceful protest should undoubtedly speed up the process of acquiring equality as opposed to doing nothing.
Sources and Further reading:
- Helen Elston et al., ‘100 women on 100 years of voting’ , The Guardian (28 January 2018)
- Sophie Walker, ‘Why are women still fighting for their rights,100 years after getting the vote’, iNews (20 January 2018)
- Hayley Miller, ‘Kimberlé Crenshaw Explains The Power Of Intersectional Feminism In 1 Minute’, Huffington Post (11 August 2017)
- Deborah Acosta, ‘the Fight to Free the nipple’, The New York Times (26 January 2016)
- Cherry Wilson, ‘Election results 2017 : the most diverse parliament yet’, BBC News (11 June 2017)
- Kate Palmer, ‘Gender pay gap : more than 500 firms reveal their figures’, BBC News (6 January 2018)
- Molly Redden and Sabrina Siddiqui , ‘ Donald Trump's accusers demand Congress investigate sexual misconduct claims’, The Guardian (12 December 2017)
- De Elizabeth and Ella Ceron , ‘Powerful People in Entertainment Who Have Been Accused of Sexual Harassment or Assault’,teenVogue (14 January 2018)
- Guinevere Poncia, 'Interviewing Sophie Walker', TalkPolitics, (3 November 2017)
Image: Wikimedia Commons