The Fight for Votes for Women
The centenary of voting rights for women
by Claire Law
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To examine the key events and figures that led to women having the right to vote in the UK.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (The Fight for Votes for Women) and the means to display them.
- Optional: you may wish to have available the YouTube video ‘Suffragette – Epsom Derby scene’ and the means to display it during the assembly. It is 6.26 minutes long, but play it from 3.27 minutes until 5.05 minutes. It is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_dXmmHxh_w
- Optional: you may wish to prepare three students to read out the reflections in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly.
- Show Slide 1.
Welcome the students to the assembly and explain that you are going to show them four slides. Ask them to work out what the four objects on the slides have in common.
- Show Slides 2-5.
Ask if anyone knows the common factor, and then explain that only boys are allowed to answer.
Confirm that the answer is that in each slide, half of the object shown is missing. State that half a sofa or half a car is not much use. In fact, even half a chocolate bar is disappointing. And half a teddy bear is just plain creepy!
- Ask whether it was fair that you only allowed half of the students to answer.
Ask the students how they would feel if they were never allowed to answer questions, and never allowed to express an opinion and contribute an idea. Point out that it seems unfair to exclude a whole group of people on the basis of their gender. It means that a group of people have been prevented from putting forward ideas and contributions. Where’s the sense in that?
- Show Slide 6.
This slide shows that not so long ago, having a say in elections and being part of the democratic process was something that only men participated in.
Until 1918, women in the UK had very little political power. They could not vote, they could not become Members of Parliament and therefore none of them could become prime minister. Women had no say as to who was in charge of the country and how it was run. However, in February 1918, a law was passed in the UK that allowed women to vote if they were over the age of 30 and owned some property or were married to a man who owned some property.
- Show Slide 7.
This was a really important change in the UK because it meant that the situation was fairer and more equal. So, how did this happen?
One important reason why things changed was because various women campaigned for equal suffrage.
- Show Slide 8.
The word suffrage means ‘the right to vote’. Many women campaigned for equal voting for women and men. Some of these women formed a group called the suffragists, which used peaceful means to get its message heard - printing leaflets, collecting petitions and holding meetings. The suffragists also met with politicians and argued their case.
Some other women formed a group called the suffragettes, who were determined to win the vote by any means. Their campaigning sometimes involved violent or illegal acts, including setting fire to buildings and smashing windows. Some suffragettes were arrested and put in prison for their actions. They believed so strongly that women should be able to vote that they continued their protest in prison by refusing to eat so that people noticed their cause.
- Optional: show the video ‘Suffragette – Epsom Derby scene’.
This clip from the 2015 film Suffragette shows a significant event in the suffragettes’ campaign - Emily Davison being hit by the King’s horse when she stepped onto the racecourse at the Epsom Derby. Emily was a key figure in the suffragette movement and had previously been arrested on nine occasions. She never regained conciousness after the incident at the Epsom Derby and died four days later.
- So, are things different now in 2018, 100 years on from some women first being granted the right to vote? Perhaps we should have a vote!
If you agree that things are now fair for men and women, raise your hand. (Estimate how many students raise their hands.) And if you think that things are not yet fair for men and women, raise your hand now. (Again, estimate how many students voted for this option.)
- Point out that a record 208 women MPs were elected to the House of Commons in last year’s general election, although women still only make up 32 per cent of MPs.
Point out that many people feel that there are other areas where it is important to campaign for greater equality between men and women. Let’s look at one example.
- Show Slide 9.
This is Martha Jephcott. She led an anti-street harassment campaign while she was a student at university in Nottingham. Her campaign led to misogyny (which is defined as ‘dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women’) being made a hate crime in the city. Nottinghamshire Police now defines misogynistic hate crime as including ‘behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman.’ That includes things like wolf-whistling and catcalling. Martha ran around 40 training sessions for police on misogynistic harassment and now wants the rest of the UK to follow suit.
- Many people in the UK are campaigning to end modern slavery and human trafficking. Others are campaigning to close the gender pay gap. It is clear that for the UK to become a fair and equal society, there are still changes to be made in many areas.
Time for reflection
As we mark 100 years since some women were given the right to vote in the UK, let us think about the qualities and values embodied by campaigners – both then and now.
Optional: you may wish to ask three students to read out the following short reflections.
We pause to reflect on the value of justice. Noticing unfairness and working towards making our society a fairer, more equal place to live are noble qualities. Let us pause to consider how we can develop the value of justice.
Pause to allow time for thought.
We pause to reflect on the value of courage. Speaking out and standing up for what we believe in requires strength of character and bravery. Let us pause to consider how we can develop the value of courage.
Pause to allow time for thought.
We pause to reflect on the value of empathy. Considering the feelings and experiences of other people requires an attitude of generosity and openness to others. Let us pause to consider how we can develop the value of empathy.
Pause to allow time for thought.
As we mark 100 years since some women were first given the right to vote in the UK,
We pray for people and places in our country and in our world where there is still unfairness.
We pray for anyone who suffers, feels isolated or lacks a voice because of injustice.
We want to pray for a fairer world, where everyone matters.
May we do what is right and develop strong beliefs, a sense of justice, courage and empathy.
We ask for the courage to speak up when we see others being treated unfairly.
We ask for help to campaign in a way that builds a better and fairer society for all.