Women's Suffrage: The Fight For Your Right To Vote

Your three female Sabbatical Officers give you a history lesson on women's right to vote and why it's so important for you to have your say in the General Election on 12 December.

2018 was a historic year for women, the centenary for women’s suffrage.

This means that 101 years ago, women were officially given the vote. However, this was only for women over 30, and it wasn’t until 1928 that women were given an equal vote to men.

A little bit of history

1832 - 1835 - Women were explicitly banned from voting - this was set out in the Reform Act 1832 and Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

1869 - Single women ratepayers received the right to vote thanks to the Municipal Franchise Act 1869. However, this had very little impact as very few women were taxpayers. This would have required being landowners, and few women were able to own land at that time.

1872 - The fight for women's suffrage became a national movement with the formation of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and later the more influential National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

In the UK, campaigners for women’s rights were known as suffragists, or suffragettes. The suffragists believed in peaceful protests, whilst the suffragettes – led by Emmeline Pankhurst – were known for resorting to more violent means of protest. Some of these measures included: deliberately getting arrested, hunger strikes, arson, and disruption of public events.

One of the most famous suffragettes was Emily Wilding Davison, who is also a notable alumna of Royal Holloway, and for whom the library is named. In 1913, she famously threw herself under the King's horse during a race, and became a martyr for women’s suffrage.

photo of Royal Holloway alumna and suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison

Martyr: Emily WIlding Davison fought for women's rights in the early 20th century, before her death at the Epsom Derby in 1913.

1918 - The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed by the House of Lords, formally giving women aged 30 and over the right to vote.

1928 - The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was expanded to give women electoral equality with men. It gave the vote to anyone over the age of 21 (this was lowered to 18 when the act was reformed in 1969), regardless of property ownership.

Women in politics today

  • Since 1918, 494 women have been elected to the House of Commons.
  • There are currently 211 women (out of 650) Members of the House of Commons. At 32%, this is an all-time high.
  • There are 207 female Peers, making up 27% of the Members of the House of Lords.
  • Seven of the current members of the Cabinet (30%) are women. The highest proportion of women in Cabinet was 36% between 2006 and 2007.

The importance of female voice in politics

Despite the number of women in Parliament growing, if you compare the representation to the population of the UK - which is 51% female - there is a stark contrast in representation. Over the last few years we have seen increasing significance of issues relating to women’s rights and autonomy. For example, the recent change in law in Northern Ireland, which decriminalised abortion was a huge step forward in healthcare for women and their autonomy and independence. Without female voice in politics, significant issues like this may never be considered (whether or not you agree) and you would not be able to have a say in the result.

Have your say

Voting in the upcoming General Election takes place on Thursday 12 December 2019.

Voting sends a message to all candidates that women care about politics, that they care about issues of healthcare, education, democracy, money and every other topic that politics impacts.

Hopefully you registered to vote; now go out (or send in a postal vote) in time to have YOUR say in YOUR future.

Lucy Simpson // Vice President Welfare & Diversity

Kate Roberts // Vice President Education

Sophia Bolton // Vice President Societies & Media