Today marks 100 years since Parliament passed a law which allowed some women, and all men, to vote for the first time: the 1918 Representation of the People Act. It was to be another 10 years before all women got the vote but today marks an important milestone.
In 1918 Parliament passed the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act which allowed women to become MPs for the first time. It was a very short Act, only one page long, stating simply that women were not disqualified by sex or marriage from sitting or voting as members of the House of Commons.
Seventeen women stood in the December 1918 general election. One was elected, Countess Constance Markievicz for the Dublin constituency of St Patrick’s. However as a member of Sinn Fein, she did not take her seat at the Westminster Parliament.
In 100 years, there have been just 491 (including just 19 from Wales). That’s just 50 more than the number of men sitting in the current parliament today.
I am proud to be the 283rd women MP in the UK Parliament, but I am still the only woman to have been elected to Parliament from any of the Gwent constituencies.
There are currently 209 women in Parliament, 32% of the total number of MPs so there is still some way to go before we achieve parity. Why is this so important? It’s simple really – we need our elected bodies and our work place managers to represent society – they don’t now. And why does all this matter? Well it’s because we make up 52% of the population and we must not allow the talents of women to go unrecognised (or ethnic minority women or disabled people for that matter), and our society should be representative of all of us. Because personal experience plays a part in the decisions that you make, our government, professional bodies and businesses work better when in tune with all of us.
But it’s not all doom and gloom:
• I am glad to say my sisters in the Welsh Assembly have fared better. Labour currently has three women Assembly members in Gwent, Newport West’s Jayne Bryant AM, Islwyn’s Rhianon Passmore AM and Torfaen’s Lynne Neagle AM. If you look at the first past the post seats in Gwent, 7 women have represented them at one time or another. I am also delighted that Newport’s Dame Rosemary Butler became the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly.
• Newport City Council has a woman leader in Cllr Debbie Wilcox, who is also the Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association
• The South Wales Argus has a women editor, Nicole Garnon
• The Chief Executive of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is Judith Paget, and the Chair of the Board is Ann Lloyd CBE.
• University of South Wales has a women Vice Chancellor, Julie Lydon
• And now Gwent Police have a Deputy Chief Constable in Pam Kelly