by Dr Jacqui Turner, Department of History, University of Reading
This week was International Women’s Day and women were everywhere.
We were in the media, online, on TV, and crowded around both front benches in the House of Commons as, in the Budget, the Chancellor announced a further £5 million for projects to celebrate the centenary of the partial franchise in 1918, which first gave women a vote:
‘It is important that we not only celebrate next year’s Centenary but also that we educate young people about its significance. It was the decisive step in the political emancipation of women in this country and this money will go to projects to mark its significance and remind us all just how important it was.’ –Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP
Yes, it was, and yes, it is. My initial reaction, of course, is that this should be done in schools every year and beyond a few weeks on the GCSE History curriculum.
Maybe we do need that £5 million from Mr Hammond, which was allocated alongside £20 million to tackle domestic violence and abuse and £5 million for ‘returnships’ to support people returning to work after long breaks.
The positioning of women around the front benches on significant days or when key legislation is being announced is a long-standing tradition –very few ever find themselves there by seniority, some maybe, but they are often window dressing.
And why do they need to be there at all? Are we harking back to the days of our first female MP, Nancy Astor, who would ‘disrupt proceedings’ with claims that she knew best on issues relating to women because she was a woman? She may have done, but it is the very old feminist debate – equal rights versus inherent suitability based on gender difference (whilst acknowledging that the gender debate is much wider today). Continue reading