Let My Voice Be Heard
The centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider why we should exercise our right to vote.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and four readers.
Leader: This year, 2018, has been the year for women. There have been marches, celebrations, exhibitions, TV programmes and the publication of many books, all marking the centenary of women in the UK gaining the right to vote. The change came about largely due to the work of suffragists such as Millicent Fawcett and suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst. On 6 February 1918, women over the age of 30 who were property owners were granted the right to cast their votes in a UK general election. It wasn’t equality yet. In 1918, men needed only to be aged 21 or over to cast their vote. But it was a start. Full equal voting rights for both sexes were actually established ten years later, in 1928.
So, why was this moment in 1918 so significant? Well, let’s start by imagining what it must have been like to be one of those women with no vote at all.
Reader 1: Everyone has an opinion about the issues that touch their lives, even if only to complain. The early years of the twentieth century were times of enormous social and political change throughout the UK and Europe. Women were affected by these changes as much as men. They had taken on significant roles during wartime and wanted to express their opinions about the best ways to run the country.
However, they had no forum to do so. It was as if they had no voice. It felt as if their contributions to the debate held no value. It was as if they, half of the thinking adults in the country, were no more significant than children. For some women, this led to deep frustration, anger and protest. For others, it simply robbed them of any motivation to learn and understand about what was happening around them. Should they have meekly accepted that they were second-class citizens?
Reader 2: There are still countries today where women don’t have equal voting rights. There are millions of women, many of whom are educated, thoughtful and talented, who are either robbed of a voice to express their view, or who accept that what they think is of no value.
So, when someone is given the right to vote (in this country, this happens at the age of 18), what opportunities does it present?
Reader 3: If I was given the chance to vote, I think it would make me feel much more a part of my community and country. I’d want to understand the issues that separate the main parties so that I would cast my vote thoughtfully. It might make me more likely to consider opinions that differ from my own so that I could clearly see the options available. A vote is a precious thing, so I’d want to cast it carefully. It might even lead to becoming involved in community action.
Reader 4: We should sound a note of warning at this point. It’s all very well to be given the right to vote, but that doesn’t mean we automatically get everything our own way. If the party or group that we support doesn’t win the ballot, it can be disappointing and frustrating, particularly if the totals were close. In addition, voters sometimes discover that the person they voted for doesn’t keep the promises that they made before the election. That’s been the experience of many voters throughout the world.
Time for reflection
Leader: Some of you may be thinking, ‘But what has this got to do with me?’ Maybe some of you are thinking, ‘I’m not even 18 yet, so I can’t vote in a general election anyway. Tell me in a few years’ time!’ However, you can still be involved . . .
First, realize that you have a voice and can express your opinion to adults whom you know will listen. Talk with them about the options available, about what they appreciate about different parties and about why and how they will vote. Discuss the importance of not wasting a vote; encourage adults who don’t always vote to take the opportunity to do so. Don’t let them waste their vote. Why not take some time to understand something about the important issues in this country and globally and discuss them? Listen to the news. Ask questions about things that you don’t understand.
Second, make sure that you use every opportunity to vote that is available to you. This may be within school, in class, year or house discussions. (If possible, give concrete examples of the voting structure within your school.) It may be online, where many websites allow you to express what’s important. Some websites may even be specifically targeting future generations of voters.
Third, consider the fact that some politicians are suggesting lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. That would immediately include a significant number of this school’s students. Why wait? You have a voice already. Make sure that it’s heard.
Thank you for the value of every opinion represented in this assembly.
Help us to take the time to listen to others and to value their ideas and opinions.
Please help us to make good decisions based on honesty, fairness, respect and love.
Give us the courage to stand up for what is good.
‘Ain’t no stopping us now’ by McFadden & Whitehead, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY0tsKCB4lc (4.00 minutes long)