Tuesday 6th February 2018 celebrates the 100th anniversary of women being given the right to vote in the UK, though the movement officially started in 1897, when Millicent Fawcett founded the Nation Union of Women's Suffrage and the UK was lagging behind the USA, where women had been campaigning since 1848. Several local groups not solely dedicated to women's voting rights preceded Millicent's efforts, the first of which is recorded to be The Sheffield Female Political Association in 1851.
In 1903, the now legendary Emmeline Pankhurst founded a new organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union, frustrated by the lack of progress advocated a much more radical and militant approach, coining the phrase "Deeds not Words" and embarking on a campaign of social unrest and distraction. During this time, women chained themselves to railings and barriers in high profile places, smashed shop windows, exploded empty residences of government officials, and marched in many public rallies. All of these actions came at a price. Many women who were chained to railings and barriers suffered physical and sexual assualt at the hands of both men and women and suffragettes were warned to "beware ill-useage". It is reported that 1300 women were arrested between 1906 and 1914, many of whom went on hunger strike and had to endure being force fed with a gullet pipe as the authorities were afraid of the bad publicity if anyone died for the cause. Their concerns were not in vain as the death of Emily Davison on June 8th 1913 furthered the cause tremendously when she was trampled by the King's horse at the Derby, whilst it is believed she was trying to pin a suffragette flag to it.
Interestingly the term "suffragette" was coined by The Daily Mail as an attempt to mock, but the women embraced the term with pride and it has been the common name for women fighting for the right to vote since.
It's important to note that progress did not leap from no rights at all to full voting rights and several bills were tabled and passed and many small gains made over this period of time, including giving women the right to take part in politics at a local level. When the vote was eventually awarded in 1918, only women over the age of 30 and were owners or married to owners of property worth more than £5, were allowed to participate and men's rights were extended to include any man over the age of 21. Because of the first world war, women vastly outnumbered men at this time, and men were wary of too many women having too much power and of men becoming the oppressed geneder. It is not until 1928 that those rights were extended to all women over the age of 21 and all references to owning property were dropped.
When did other countries allow women to vote?
1893 New Zealand
1918 Russia, Poland, Germany, Austria
1947 Argentina, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan
1957 Malaysia, Zimbabwe
1963 Iran, Morocco
1990 Western Samoa
1993 Kazahkstan, Moldova
1994 South Africa
2006 United Arab Emirates
2011 Saudi Arabia
Source: The New York Times May 22nd 2005
Some countries including Brunei, Lebanon and the Vatican City still do not allow women equal voting rights to men and whilst women across the world now have more equality and liberty than ever before, this is coupled with a backlash of increased violence and sexual assault against women. This could be in part because of an increase the reporting of such crimes, but in terms of equality for women, there is still a long way to go. One also has to ask whether any of the actions of the suffragettes (or the more peaceful protestors - the suffragists) had any effect at all and perhaps it was just that the women of the UK had kept the UK economy afloat whilst most of the men were fighting in the first world war which finally enabled them to be recognised as valuable contributors to society.