Women's Right to Vote (Centenary)

Rhoda's Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

6 February 2018

Rhoda :

The original suffragettes and suffragists campaigned for the vote because they wanted change.

To them, voting was about more than just the privilege of going to the polling booth; it was about seeing a tangible difference in the lives of women.

They wanted equality and fairness, not just on the face of it but in how wives, mothers and female workers were treated by the law.

The suffragettes and suffragists felt not just that they were equally qualified and capable, but that they had something else to add that was valuable.

They had experiences and opinions that were missing from Parliament and the democratic process, and which could inform better laws, which could in turn make society function much better.

This is the centenary of votes for women but, as Neil Findlay pointed out, initially women were able to vote only if they were over 30 and owned property or had a degree.

Therefore, only 40 per cent of women became entitled to vote 100 years ago today: the rest needed to wait 10 years to get the vote.

Ruth Davidson said that we are celebrating

“a staging post to a better system”,

but how many more staging posts will we have to celebrate before we are truly equal?

A number of members talked about what the suffragettes and suffragists suffered.

The most stark account was probably from Joan McAlpine, who described their being force fed, jailed, cast out and assaulted. It is grim, but people were treated that way just because they tried to get the right to vote.

Kezia Dugdale pointed out that women are still suffering today due to inequality, poverty and violence.

When I read the papers, I sometimes wonder whether we are going backward rather than forward.

We lack equality in Parliament and on boards and, with a 14.1 per cent gender pay gap, we lack equality in pay.

There is also gendered pay, in which jobs that are done predominantly by women are paid much less, even though they need the same levels of skills and qualifications as much better-paid jobs that are done predominantly by men.

We need to value the work that women do.

Christina McKelvie talked about the need for men in our cause: we need male feminists who support equality.

Richard Leonard spoke about Keir Hardie’s commitment to votes for women.

Hardie was told that that was the wrong thing to pursue, but he recognised that to build a fair society it was essential to give votes and equality to women.

I am proud of my party’s decision to take positive action to encourage women into politics, but we cannot take any of our achievements for granted because, as we all know, we can slip back quickly.

However, I encourage other parties to join us, and to stand up and make a firm commitment to women’s equal representation in public life—not only to ask her to stand, but to make it possible for her to stand.

The Scottish Labour Party has the highest proportion of women here, at 46 per cent.

In the first parliamentary session in 1999, the Scottish Labour Party had 50:50 representation, and we were absolutely derided for it.

How times change.

I wonder whether, had it not been for those women, we would have made the progress that we have made in Scotland on equal pay, domestic violence and the like.

If those women had not been fighting the cause, would those changes be happening now?

A number of members talked about women in history who have fought for the vote.

Many members quoted people from their own areas, but just as many talked about women who are making a difference now; those who are still fighting the fight—trade unionists and women in other countries who face death in order to express their vote.

When I am on the doorstep, I often say that people, especially women, must use their vote, because people are still dying today in order that people can do so.

There is something very humbling in recognising that I would not, were it not for the struggle of those women 100 years ago, be standing here addressing Parliament today.

I wonder what those women would say if they could see us.

Would they be proud of their achievement, or would they be disappointed that we are still fighting for equality?

Let us together create a truly equal society of which they would be proud.

Let us not wait another 100 years; let us do it today.

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