Rachael's Column: The Fight for Equality

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York has a history of pioneering women from chocolate’s Mary Craven to educator Mary Ward but it wasn’t until 2015 that York sent a woman to Parliament. 100 years ago, York women, joined forces with women across the country to fight for the right to vote, as depicted so well in last year’s York Theatre Royal production of ‘Everything is Possible’. Until this point, women were not deemed capable of determining who should govern them, let alone govern themselves.

As the battle for equality gathered pace under the leadership of the suffragettes, women publicly and determinedly made the case that they were equal to their male counterparts. On 6 February 1918 the Representation of the People’s Act was passed and while the vote was extended to all men, only some women, those with property and over 30, won the right to vote. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in 1928 that all women over 21 could vote. This right came at great cost, and is a reminder why we should all use our vote today.

Progressing further forward towards fair representation, in 1969, the then Labour Government dropped the voting age to 18. Labour are now calling for the vote to be given to all 16 year olds, since they can pay taxes, get married, join the Armed Forces and leave home. They should have a say in the decisions made about them.

The march moves ever forward – not just on who can vote, but rights for women too.

Having women in Parliament must also mean the challenges women face across the country are addressed. In recent weeks we have been debating sexual harassment, equal pay and maternity rights.

I have been vocal in Parliament about the huge economic inequality between women and men. Women are segregated into lower paid jobs, have greater job insecurity, and receive smaller pensions, not least the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women who have had their pensions stolen by a government who changed the rules without informing them.

I am inspired by the amazing women I meet and represent every day. I’m proud that, in York, we have a woman colonel, a woman Dean, a woman Vice Chancellor at York St. John’s, women Chief Executives leading charities and businesses across the city and this year an all-women civic party for the first time. However the women who inspire me most are the incredible young women and girls I meet in our schools, the women who come to see me at my constituency surgeries who are battling against the odds to improve their lives and that of their families, and the women who are volunteering and campaigning in our community, all making a difference to our city.

Of course, I’m here to represent everyone, but maybe today, we can just stop and honour the incredible women in our lives – mothers or daughters, sisters or friends, mentors or leaders, and if you are a woman, pause and recognise your unique gifts and talents too. There is a full programme of events taking place throughout the city for International Women’s Week from 3 -11 March and in April, York Labour’s Women’s Conference will be reflecting on what has been achieved in the past 100 years. I am really looking forward to getting involved to celebrate women’s voices in York and beyond.

Despite the progress of the past 100 years, in the fight for equality, there is so much more that we need to do. Whilst we reflect on the achievements made, we must continue to push forward, so that together we can finally deliver a society that is truly inclusive and equal for all.

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