LETTER: Let’s not abuse those rights

How better to celebrate International Women’s Day than by reflecting on our Suffrage history?

Angela Tester (letters, March 8) is quite correct in challenging the attitudes of people who make assumptions without discernible historical facts. Like Brexit, suffrage and the fight for equality of opportunity – in this case the right to vote – has divided families and caused untold emotional grief to those directly involved.

Impassioned people on both sides of the debate through history have aired their views, take for instance the Churchills, Winston and Clementine. Winston, though sympathetic to Clementine, wrote in 1909: “I shall never try to crush your convictions (but)... I cannot help them while the present tactics are continued.” It is claimed, however, that her view was ‘the day would not have been won without women whose passion... exceeded constitutional bounds’ (Women and Power, National Trust, Spring 2018).

Playwright George Bernard Shaw, who joined suffrage marches , is quoted as saying ‘the vote will, never be won by speeches made by men on behalf of women... The speaking must be done by the women themselves’, which clearly indicates that if you want change, you have to do it yourself and sometimes it involves unintended outcomes. George Barnard Shaw’s words are a powerful reminder that the stories and voices of those involved in the Suffrage movement are as important to today as they were in 1918. We still need to challenge chauvinism, sexism and unfair and insensitive use of power.

It is a fact that on February 6, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, Women in Britain over the age of 30, meeting the property qualifications and men over 21 years, were given the right to vote. Before this law, not all British men were able to vote.

It was not until 1928 that suffrage was extended to all women over the age of 21 years – a decade after the right was granted to men.

So it seems a little premature to celebrate the centenary of freeing of all women, to enable them to have their say in democracy when at this stage it did not apply to everyone.

But we can confidently say that in 1918 both men (21 years-plus) and women (30 years-plus) were given more rights to have their say by the efforts and sacrifices of those passionate women. Let’s not abuse that right and use it.

Cllr Hazel Thorpe

Leader, Liberal Democrat Council Group, Worthing 
Borough Council,

High Street, Tarring

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