As today marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 general election, which was the first time women voted in the UK, Mrs Carol Chandler-Thompson, Head at Blackheath High School, GDST, argues that sexism remains rife in politics and to overcome the issue, we must encourage young women to become active participants in politics…
Welcome are the protests that marked Iceland’s independence centenary this month. Leaked secret recordings of crude, sexually charged and dismissive language used by Iceland’s former prime minister and fellow lawmakers about female colleagues has rightly sparked outrage amongst citizens. For what was once thought to be the world’s most gender-just country, the ‘Klaustur Affair’ has been described as a “sobering reality check”.
This week we mark our own centenary. Today is the 100th anniversary since women could vote for the first time in a general election. While this is a time to celebrate how far women have come, so too is it important to recognise today just how far we have yet to go. Because the remarks made by the Icelandic ministers suggest blatant sexism is rife inside the country’s seemingly progressive parliament.
If we look to our own parliament in the UK, 100 years since women could stand for election, it suggests we too have a long way to go. Women’s participation in politics remains limited. Parliament continues to be dominated by men. Since 1918, only 491 women have been elected to Parliament. To put this in context there were 442 male MPs elected at the last general election alone.
Imbalance in Parliament is everyone’s issue. Research shows women tend to be politically driven by issues such as education, health and welfare. Without their voices, we simply cannot improve. It’s vital that young women become active participants in politics. This starts by encouraging girls to become politically engaged at a young age.
Now more than ever, young people are demonstrating an interest in politics and current affairs. I see this exemplified by the spirited students in our longest-running club: Politics Society, as well as the Feminism Society, and the Mighty Girls Club, our Junior School feminist club for girls as young as ten. Young women at the school: practice public speaking; hold spirited debates; run mock Parliament sessions and elections; and study key female historical figures.
By engaging girls in politics in this way we are not only teaching them how to make informed political decisions. Equally important is giving them the confidence they need to excel – even in traditionally male dominated industries.
That’s why each week we invite outside speakers to share their experiences and knowledge as part of our Wollstonecraft Speaker Series. Named after the founding feminist philosopher, the speakers teach students the importance of speaking out and how to smash glass ceilings, creating role models for the girls.
Because it was pioneering women like Mary who challenged and changed the status quo, leading to access to education for all. Women who challenged and changed the status quo paved the way to equal voting rights. Women that marched the streets in Iceland earlier this month and spoke up in parliament showed the world they will not be degraded by their male counterparts.
And it is this bright spirit that I am proud to see in all our girls at Blackheath High School.
For me, Vote 100 marks a time to consider the next generation of women. To consider what we must do to empower them to overcome discrimination and drive society forward.
So as we mark the centenary today, amidst a backdrop of Klaustur, Time’s Up, and #MeToo we should remind ourselves of how much lays ahead of us. We must encourage our young girls to follow in the footsteps of feminist role models.
Because feminists are pioneers. They are rebels. Sometimes they are right. They can be wrong. But they are fearless and above all, they strive for equality. We must encourage our girls to push boundaries and shatter glass ceilings where they see them. Only then will they realise their full potential and bring real progress for all.