Celebrating women's right to vote

05 March 2018

(Article by Debbie Reay, Chair of the ASLEF women's representative committee) featured in the March 2018 edition of the ASLEF Journal)

This year is the 100th anniversary of the successful campaign, led by the Suffragettes, which gave some women the right to vote in Britain. The campaign came at great personal cost to the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst & co – the women suffered beatings, ridicule, and imprisonment; they were brutally force fed and tortured.

DebbieSo when I hear women say ‘I don’t vote’ it makes me cringe. The excuses – ‘I didn’t know who to vote for’; ‘they’re all the same, so what’s the point?’; ‘I couldn’t be bothered’; or, amazingly, ‘politics doesn’t affect me’ – are varied but, in my opinion, they boil down to either a lack of knowledge or, quite simply, laziness.

In the dim and distant past of my school years, I remember my history teacher speaking of kings and queens, world wars, and the British Empire. The Suffragettes were mentioned, in passing, but more as part of women’s contribution to the war effort than as a whole section of history on their own.

I don’t believe this has changed much today. Women make up 52% of the electorate, but women aged 18‐34 are the least likely to vote, although there was quite an increase at the snap election called by Theresa May in 2017. I find this statistic astounding.

Why would this particular age group feel that their opinion isn’t important? Why do they feel so disenfranchised?

Austerity cuts have bitten hard and women, as the majority of care providers, have borne the brunt of many of these harsh cuts. Universal tax credit, which still includes the controversial ‘rape clause’, has pushed many women into poverty. Funding to women’s refuges has been slashed by a quarter since 2010 and, despite Theresa May pledging £20 million towards domestic violence projects, the money has yet to materialise. Last year, more than 1,000 vulnerable women and children were turned away from refuges.

With FGM – female genital mutilation – ‘honour’ killings, rape, domestic abuse, harassment, and misogyny around the globe, women’s human rights are abused on a daily basis. Governments can put a stop to many of these abuses, but people who vote are only ever going to vote for the party that is right for them. Whilst most men will abhor these abuses they are not, in general, directly affected by them. So unless we have more women involved in politics, these issues will always be pushed down the ‘to do’ list.

Women ceased to be chattels in this country many years ago, yet some women still choose to let others make life-defining decisions for them.

Women’s voices and opinions are just as valid as men’s. Our foremothers recognised this and fought for the right for the female perspective to be heard.

So, are we sure politics doesn’t affect us? Of course it does! It affects each and every one of us, both on a domestic and on a global scale. Whether it is a local depot ballot or a general election, what you think matters.

Men know their opinion is important. More women need to tap into that mentality and realise they have the power to make change, and one of the most important changes can be made by simply putting an X in a box on a ballot paper.




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