HOW times change. A century ago, women did not even have the vote until the landmark Representation of the People Act was passed. Now they hold positions of power, and influence, across society that could have been scarcely envisaged by the suffragette movement when females were still disenfranchised.
Many of the greatest pioneering figures to emerge from this county in the past century, such as Betty Boothroyd, Barbara Hepworth and Helen Sharman, are women and the equality debate, so contentious for so long, has led to a significant shift in public attitudes.
Never again, by way of example, could a newly-appointed Prime Minister elect a Cabinet without a single female minister at the top table of power, John Major’s mistake in 1990. Now the political push is for equal representation in the Cabinet and Parliament.
Yet, while most people are firmly on the side of fairness, abhor sexism and simply regard women as the equal of men without even thinking twice about the notion, there are still battles to be won judging by recent events. The BBC pay row is indicative that more needs to be done until gender equality can be taken for granted. Misogynistic attitudes do still exist, as exemplified by Parliament’s sexual harassment scandal. And the vindictive personal abuse meted out to political candidates, in particular women, is one reason why Theresa May is contemplating a new law to combat this behaviour.
It does not end here. As Sue Woodroofe, the female principal of the Grammar School at Leeds, notes, women at the top do still feel that they have to prove themselves more than their male counterparts. It’s a timely warning. And, while today’s commemorations should acknowledge the positive progress that has been achieved in the past 100 years, and why Britain remains in the debt of the suffragettes, there does still need to be a focus on the future, and what more should be done, to bring about equality of opportunity so today’s young people have every chance of fulfilling their ambitions on merit alone.