Deeds and Words – 100 years on and we have some way to go! Join us for a celebration of women’s voices marking the centenary of suffrage
2018 is a significant year of anniversaries for women in work and public life. In February we marked the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which gave a limited number of women the vote, followed by the passing of the Parliament Act on 21 November 1918 which allowed women to stand for election. Men still outnumber women in parliament by more than 2:1 and at the current rate of progress it will take 50 years to achieve parity in the Palace of Westminster. Clearly, we still have some way to go.
November also bring the sombre milestone and time for reflection it is 100 years since the signing of the Armistice that saw a fragile and relatively short lived period of peace in mainland Europe following the First World War. Less than 21 years later Europe was once again engaged in bloody and prolonged conflict. The 1914-18 War saw immense changes in women’s lives in the UK, with men at the front women stepped up and into jobs in factories, on public transport, in the civil service and even the police force. By 1918 employment rates for women increased to 46% and nearly 40% of all married women were working, changing the social fabric and nature of society for ever.
What you may not have known is that some of these women, working on the buses and trams in London and the South East went on strike over unequal pay. It was the first equal pay strike in the UK, not only initiated and led by women but which they won! In response to the strike the War Cabinet set up a committee that endorsed the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’. However, this did not shift the belief that due to their “lesser strength and special health problems” women’s ‘output’ would not equal that of men, and while the unions managed to negotiate equal pay for the duration of the war for work where women had replaced men, once peace came the position was reversed.
A government committee on equal pay – does this sound familiar?
Just this year we have had the first of the reports, mandatory for companies with over 250 employees, on the state of women’s earnings and the gender pay gap. Some shocking findings have emerged and not just those widely reported at the BBC! While one might expect certain industries with high levels of male employment such as construction, to have a significant pay gap (where women might be in lower skilled and therefore lower paid roles), some worrying statistics came from fashion and cosmetic businesses. Karen Millen, the fashion house, reported paying women 49% less on a median hourly basis and while women account for 84% of the company’s top positions when it came to bonuses women’s median bonus pay was a staggering 96% lower than men’s.
What can we do to redress the continuing imbalance? Answer – be loud be heard – speak up and speak out. If we don’t raise our voices how can we expect people to notice when we have issues to raise. That is what Deeds and Words is all about – a weekend festival of women speaking up and speaking out – poets, writers, activists, artists and politicians. Coming together to celebrate 100 years of women’s voices.