1903 2003 Women's 100-Year Fight for Equality; A Century since the Pankhurst Family Launched the Suffragette Movement, Historian Juliette Pattinson Asks How Far Women in Wales Have Come since Then

Article excerpt

Byline: Juliette Pattinson

Politics

1903 British women still had no vote despite campaigning for over 50 years on the issue of suffrage. The establishment of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU)in 1903 by the Pankhursts started a new phase of the votes for women campaign.

Their militancy contributed to making female enfranchisement an important political issue which could no longer be ignored.

Women's exclusion from formal politics continued until 1918 with the passing of the Representation of the People Act which gave the vote to women over 30. All women over 21 were enfranchised in 1928.

2003 Today, women over 18 can vote, serve on juries,become MPs, lawyers,judges,QCs and members of the Cabinet and,of course, we had a long- serving female Prime Minister in Margaret Thatcher. However,despite this advance,female MPs are still regarded as exceptional,as witnessed by the media attention on ``Blair's Babes''.

Education

1903 Emphasis was firmly placed upon the domestic ideal within a girl's education. While middle class girls were taught the necessary skills to become good housekeepers, working-class girls were prepared for their future career as domestic servants. In 1906, theBoard of Education suggested that instruction in science should be replaced by practical housewifery. Middle class women did have limited access to higher education -Girton College was opened in 1870 and London University enabled women to study for a degree from 1898.

2003 Girls can study all subjects at school and are not restricted to ``femaleappropriate'' topics like home economics. Oxford and Cambridge Universities, whichfully admitted women to their degree programmes in 1920 and 1948 respectively,have an almost equal ratio of women to men,as do other universities.

However, women continue to be over- represented in arts and humanities and under-representedin science.

Employment

1903 Working-class women were concentrated in low-paidjobs, with low status and poor working conditions.

``Women's work'' included domestic service and textiles,as well as regionally-based industries such as fish gutting. In 1914,1.5mof the 15m women in Britain were employed as domestic servants. Women were paid at a much lower rate than their male colleagues.

In 1906, the average male wage was 30 shillings (pounds 1.50)a week. Contrast that with textile workers, the highest paid female employees, who received less than 19s (95p)a week, women in the linen and silk industries who earned 9s (45p)a week,and homeworkers, who earned as little as 5s (25p)a week if they worked an 18-hour day.

Women enjoyed new opportunities during the First World War, replacing men as clip pies and dentists,joining the women's services such as the WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps), working in munitions factories and in clerical and administration jobs.

Despite a post-war backlash, the war did have some positive impact on female employment.

More women joined trade unions, there was an expansion in clerical work,and women's attitudes to work were transformed with working-class women refusing to return to domestic service.

2003 Today, women are employed in a much broader range of occupations and successfully juggle both work and family.

With the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970,it became illegal to pay women less than men for undertaking the same role.

However,a note of caution: women on average earn 30pc less than men because they are concentrated in low-paid,low-status jobs with poor promotional prospects. Women who have a BA degree earn a similar amount to men who have A-level qualifications, while women who have a masters degree earn the same as men who have a BA. …