100 years of women voting: how far we’ve come and the power of our everyday choices to make a difference

In the era of Trump, #metoo and #timesup, it’s more important than ever to celebrate 2018 marking 100 years of women voting in the UK.

Just think how far we’ve come: from only some British women having the vote in 1918 – those over 30 who owned property – to all British women having that right. From having zero female MPs to speak on our behalf, to 191. Some 26 per cent of the cabinet are women, while 50 per cent of the shadow cabinet is made up of female MPs. And, of course, we have a female Prime Minister for the second time in UK history.

These are huge breakthroughs, many of which those early suffragettes and suffragists couldn’t have even begun to imagine.

However, we’re still far from reaching the promised land of true gender equality. Those 191 make up less than a third of all 650 MPs; the female faces on the cabinet are almost outnumbered three to one by male counterparts. And this pattern is reflected across nearly every business sector, from FTSE 100 companies to the NHS, with fewer and fewer women to be found as you move towards the top of the food-chain. And the women at the bottom? Well, it takes just over four days for a top CEO in the fashion industry to earn what a Bangladeshi woman working in his factory will earn in her whole lifetime.

Meanwhile, almost a century after winning the vote, The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Gender Gap report ranks the UK 17th for female political empowerment; pretty good, but could do better. Basically, there’s still a way to go, ladies and gents.

While we can’t all become MPs or business leaders, women can begin to use the power we already have more wisely. There’s a different kind of revolution happening, too. One where we as consumers can vote with our cash. One where the decisions we make every day can have a real impact on the way companies do business, from where they source their goods to whether they exploit people along the supply chain.

One of the most powerful tools available to us is reclaiming ownership of the choices concerning how and where we spend. Just look at the insane growth of vegan options in supermarkets and restaurants in the last month – a record 120,000 people took part in Veganuary in 2018, giving up meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey for 31 days. And where consumers went, brands followed.

Money talks, and the way we use ours sends a clear message about what matters to us. Your buying bias can condemn or condone; your choice actually matters.

Think about it: the market value of the fashion industry, for example, is £66 billion in the UK. Imagine if we all stopped buying clothes from anywhere that let their workers toil in sweatshop conditions for a pittance.

Around 70 per cent of the 75 billion animals farmed worldwide each year are reared in factory farms. Imagine if we all made a point of avoiding cheap meat that causes such distress to animals.

Imagine just how powerful those simple acts could be.

The more of us who “vote” for ethical practices, demanding it by prioritising brands that treat workers well, pay a fair wage and limit the negative impact their business has on the planet, the more these qualities will be valued. And that, I think, is pretty empowering.

Main image from left to right: Emily Pankhurst;
A Suffragette’s Home c,1910 (National League Opposing Woman Suffrage)
on display at the People’s History Museum, Manchester;
Ida B. Wells,
All Wikipedia Commons

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