Dr Maureen Wright encourages women to use their right to vote
In 2017 our vote is perceived as a ‘right’, but why it is important that we exercise that right? After all, free choice gives us an equal chance to abstain. Democracy gives us that option. Women and men campaigned for the vote to be able to give ‘consent’ to government laws. By exercising our vote we voice our agreement or dissent from the ideas (put forward in their Manifestos) of those political parties who would govern us.
Britain’s government rules on a simple majority system and, whatever the rights and wrongs of that system might be, we who vote for that majority are consenting to that rule. We have a free vote and a free choice… think how many in our world do not. In these last few months we have had a number of ‘shocks’ to our political system and some terrible attacks on our culture, security and ways of being. Respect for democracy, for its values and its systems are being challenged in ways we perhaps never thought to see.
If you have registered to vote in the forthcoming General Election consider what you are consenting to before you put the cross in the box. The Party we place in government this summer (whoever that may be) needs to be able to look back at the result of this election and know they govern by the wishes and consent of the people, and that they were not elected simply because they were perceived to be the ‘best of a bad bunch’.
“We have a free vote and a free choice”
Historically, when we consider the theoretical standpoint from which feminists claimed votes for women it was from two key perspectives. Prior to the period of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) women activists (suffragists, or those who used non-violent methods of campaign) argued from the perspective of the ‘service’ women could provide to the state. Included in this group were figures such as Millicent Garrett Fawcett, whose statue will shortly occupy a position in London’s Parliament Square, Lydia Becker, Josephine Butler and Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon.
By 1903, however, when Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, the premise on which campaigners sought the vote had changed. Rather than the ‘service’ educated women could offer to the state, especially in the fields of education, medicine or by seeking roles on Factory Inspectorates etc., the women who took up the militant position in the emancipation movement did so on the grounds that women had the right, just as much as the male half of the human race, to consent to the laws by which they were governed. As the British government had sent in the military to defend the electoral rights of British men living in the Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, the most radical suffrage campaigners saw nothing amiss in their adoption of violent methods to achieve their objectives.
“the women who took up the militant position in the emancipation movement
did so on the grounds that women had the right to consent to the laws
by which they were governed”
Votes for women, however, in the pre-WW1 era, did not mean ‘adult suffrage’ as we know it today. Even taking into account that the age of majority was 21 years, rather than 18 as now, there was a significant number of women who would remain outside the franchise. These were non-property owning women. Both ‘constitutionalists’ and ‘militants’ were seeking the vote “on the terms as it is, or shall be, granted to men”, which meant, practically, that one’s right to vote depended on the amount of property a person owned. Some women, for example, had the right to elect representatives in Local Government or Municipal elections from the mid-nineteenth century. These could either be property owning widows or businesswomen.
In the early part of the 1920s, the right to vote in the UK depended
on the amount of property a person owned
But national ‘citizenship’, the right to elect and be elected to parliament was barred to the majority of females until the passage of the Representation of the People Act, 1928. Then and only then did every adult British man and woman have the right to exercise their vote and take on the responsibilities of national citizenship.
The ability to vote is there for us all this week. Use your vote.