The democratic dimensions of the Suffragettes' victory

By Ed Cox | 13 February 2018
  • Ed Cox

Last week’s centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act was an opportune moment to celebrate the achievements of the Suffragette women who put lives and livelihoods on the line to secure a vote for women and to highlight the continuing struggle to overcome today’s barriers to women’s political participation. However, while the majority of media coverage rightly focused on gender equality, we should also take time to recognise the democratic dimensions of the Suffragettes’ victory.

The Votes for Women campaign came at a time when the balance of power between central and local government was very different. Back then, municipal authorities rightly looked after the large part of the public realm: education, hospitals, transport and other aspects of civic infrastructure. It is important to note that even then local government was more progressive than Parliament. The Municipal Franchise Act of 1869 enabled female ratepayers to vote for local municipal councils but even before that women had the right to vote and to hold office in a range of local and parish institutions from their foundation.

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