Saturday, 23.06.18 - London

100 Years of Suffrage - Our Vote, Our Voice

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave millions of British women the right to vote, FES London and the Fabian Society hosted the all-day Women's Conference “100 Years of Suffrage: Our Vote, Our Voice”.

We were joined by more than 20 speakers, including leading female politicians and activists from across the progressive spectrum. Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Dawn Butler, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, addressed the Labour Party's record on gender equality, and highlighted what needs to be done to empower women in politics and society. Johanna Uekermann, Deputy Leader of the SPD in Bavaria, provided insights into her own experiences as a young female politician, and reported on the campaigns in Germany to increase women's representation in party structures.

As well as reflecting on the present, we examined the past and future of political feminism. Our afternoon breakout sessions included an exploration of the forgotten history of women in politics, and a discussion on how new technology is affecting women's participation in political discourses. We also considered what methods can be used to overcome the individual and collective challenges facing women. There were sessions on how to network (which included insights from Seema Malhotra, Labour MP and President of the Fabian Women’s Network), and on potential responses to the rise of populism. In the final session, attendees were able to ask four women at the top of their respective professions for practical career advice.

As Dawn Butler pointed out, there are lessons to be learned from the history of the women's movement. The Representation of the People Act enfranchised only property-owning women over the age of 30, and it took eleven more years of campaigning until young, working-class women were given the vote in 1929. Wholesale progress will require solidarity and co-operation between women and men from all walks of life. While this will pose challenges, the diversity among the speakers and in the audience, as well as the mutual support and goodwill evident on several occasions at the conference, offers encouraging signs that feminists will continue working together to make gains at all levels.

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