IWD: 100 years of change – a celebration of women’s rights

21 February 2018

This year is the 100 year anniversary of (some) women achieving the right to vote and all women being entitled to stand for Parliament. This blog is a celebration of some of the achievements of women since then, and some suggestions as to how we should #PressforProgress this year.

Rise of the Suffragettes

The starting place for celebrating women’s achievements is undoubtedly with the Suffragettes; who kick-started a movement of fighting for equality. Emmeline Pankhurst and her Suffragette allies founding the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903; WSPU member Emily Wilding Davison (who creatively hid in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons on the night of the 1911 census so she could record her address as the House of Commons) dying after attempting to pin a WSPU rosette on the King’s horse at the Epsom derby; the women who shouted, fought, kicked and screamed as they were arrested, and who then starved themselves and endured force-feeding whilst incarcerated so that society took note of just how desperately women wanted the right to vote.

It was not until 1928 that universal suffrage was granted pursuant to the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928. Without these commendable women who persisted in fighting for this right we would not be lucky enough to be able to cast our ballots in elections today.

First female MP – United Kingdom

Although Constance Markievicz was the first female MP elected to the House of Commons, it was Nancy Astor who was the first female MP to take her seat. She sat in the House from 1919 to 1945 and it was she who was responsible for the first Private Members’ Bill ever passed by a woman, which introduced the principle that alcohol cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 18.

The (slight) reduction in the gender pay gap – United Kingdom

A cause for celebration is the slight decrease in the gender pay gap. This is currently a ubiquitous topic given the recent stories about the BBC and Tesco. On average, women receive 86p for every £1.00 that their male counterparts make in similar roles and with similar experience. The existence of the gender pay gap is marked by Equal Pay Day, which is the symbolic day in the year when women effectively stop earning compared to men. This was 4 November in 2014, 9 November in 2015 and 2016 but happily has slightly increased by one day to 10 November in 2016 and 2017; which suggests that there is gradual change taking place.

Driving change – Saudi Arabia

In May 2017, women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to obtain government services such as education and healthcare without permission from a male guardian. A few months later, in September, women were granted the right to obtain a driving licence. This is a major win for women’s right activists and a big change for women in Saudi Arabia, although the country still abides by a strict guardianship system which sees women having to seek permission from their male guardian for any major activity.

Banned professions – Russia

In September 2017, career progression was finally a reality for Svetlana Medvedeva who became a ship’s captain in Russia after a five-year legal battle. She had previously been denied the role which was on a 1974 Soviet list of 456 professions that were banned for women. Unfortunately little has changed for the female workforce in Russia since this landmark ruling as they are still forbidden from undertaking a wide variety of jobs, but we should not let this overshadow this achievement and should instead focus on what can be done with such determination.

#BehindEveryGreatCity – London

In the UK, women’s rights and achievements are being celebrated throughout 2018 following Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, designating it as the year to celebrate 100 years of milestones for women as part of the #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign. For example, on 6 February 2018, 59 life-sized images of central figures of the suffrage movement were unveiled in Trafalgar Square for one day only. Sadiq Khan on his Instagram account will also tell the admirable story of one woman each week. This is a great way to celebrate the achievements of women and draw attention to how much progress we have made in the last century. This is what we need; a push to remember rather than forget how far we have come and how much more there is that we can achieve.


Despite the fantastic progress that has been made in just the last century, there is undoubtedly still quite a long way to go to achieve global gender parity. Let’s therefore all adopt Emmeline Pankhurst’s motto of “Deeds not words” and actively continue to #PressforProgress. Let’s not be disheartened by what is left to achieve and instead let’s follow in the footsteps of all of the amazing women who helped us to be where we are today. So please continue to:

  1. 1)Campaign for a women’s right to choose and challenge those who impose their beliefs on women;
  2. End the culture of victim blaming and provide a supportive environment for those reporting sexual harassment and sexual crimes and encourage them to take action against their attacker;
  3. Campaign for the right for women to have bodily autonomy. We can draw attention to this by signing petitions, sharing pieces on social media, and attending marches in support of women’s rights;
  4. Push for equal pay in our own jobs and voice our opinions on social media about companies where there is a distinct and unfair gender pay gap.

IWD is an opportunity to build on the progress that has been made towards gender parity and to celebrate the achievements of women on a global scale. This year, #PressforProgress.

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