Suffragette100: St Albans MP says unity and purpose, not division and gender, should inspire us

Anne Main in Parliament.

Anne Main in Parliament. - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Anne Main offers her personal take on the anniversary of women’s suffrage.

St Albans MP Anne Main

St Albans MP Anne Main - Credit: Archant

This year marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, giving women the right to vote for the first time. Whilst it took a further decade to achieve full equality on voting rights for women, we cannot underestimate the gravity of the 1918 act.

At the time the establishment was appalled by the violence of suffragette movement, which culminated in the right of women to vote. But, there was also a peaceful and effective movement by the suffragists which I believe to be just as inspirational, and a more valuable message for today’s social media society.

The leader of the suffragist movement, Millicent Fawcett, said, ‘What draws men and women together is stronger than the brutality and tyranny which drive them apart.’ What better message should we take to our young women today?

Life has moved on at a rapid pace over the last hundred years. We have seen a raft of equality legislation that makes it illegal for women to be discriminated against simply for their gender.

In Britain we’ve had two female prime ministers; female first ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland; and, we’ve got female head of the Met Police. In Parliament, we will now have a female Black Rod for the first time in over 650 years!

Society and technology has advanced rapidly. When I was first elected in 2005 there was no iPhone; and Facebook, Skype and Amazon had barely been conceived.

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The advances in technology have improved peoples’ lives immeasurably – but there is an ugly side. Social media has created a pernicious platform for fake news, misleading memes, and faceless bullying.

When I speak in schools to our young women, I do not want them to be put off entering politics for fear of being screamed at electronically or receiving appalling messages in their inbox. Aggression is never the way to win an argument.

Millicent Fawcett’s words have never been truer. 100 years on, let’s encourage our young women to participate in public life by the inspirational message of unity and purpose – not division and gender.