As a white woman growing up in Australia I took my right to vote for granted. White Australian women were given the right to vote, pretty much from the time of Federation in 1901, although sadly, it was a lot later for women of indigenous descent. In England it was a completely different story, and the movement which precipitated change had its birth in Manchester.
I moved to the United Kingdom in 2002, just at the time of the Commonwealth Games, and fittingly chose the host city, Manchester, as my home town.
Manchester is perhaps not that well-known outside the UK. It has become synonymous with round ball football, and not known for much else. I know whenever I travel people ask me where I live, and when I tell them, the first thing they ask is “City or United?”
Manchester has a very rich and a very vibrant history, but unlike cities in say Australia, it doesn’t sing about it. There are plaques, and museums tucked away but you have to know where to look. I wonder how many Australians realise that the home of the Suffragette movement, founded by Emmeline Pankhurst started in Manchester? I certainly wasn’t aware of that, my knowledge of England was sadly limited to London.
In the late 1800’s Manchester was in a state of flux. The industrial revolution had brought great change to this part of England – I’ll explore that further in another article. Women had choices and opportunities that they had never had before. They became skilled, and started to escape the drudgery of manual labour. However, poverty was still rife, and for many women, workhouses were a way of life. Emmeline felt that giving women the vote would be instrumental in allowing them more control, and to escape their lives of hardship.
Women, under the guidance of Emmeline Pankhurst and her Women’s Social and Political Union, that she co-founded, were no longer willing to stand by and be dominated by men. They took direct, militant action against their oppressors, men, very often resorting to arson and window breaking.
Historians remain divided on just how effective these tactics were, and it can be argued that it was the First World War, which robbed this country of many strong, young men and gave women a very important role in society, that was the catalyst for change, women receiving the vote in fact 30 in 1918; providing they were householders, married to a householder or if they held a university degree, universal suffrage was granted in 1928.
I am proud to be an adopted Mancunian, and very proud that the women’s movement started here. I think now, more than ever, it is important that we do not take our right to vote for granted. As women it is important that we remember that this right was hard-fought for and won, that without this movement perhaps we would not have the opportunities and the recognition that we have today.
We still have a long way to go, in terms of receiving equal pay and equal opportunities.
In the United Kingdom it is not compulsory to vote, and voter turn out is, in my eyes, not nearly as high as it should be. We as women should be first in line to cast our vote, for it really was not that long ago that we would not have been allowed to at all.
©Kylie of Manchester – Our newest Team Writer. Meet Kylie
Editor’s Note: Voting in Australia is compulsory. You may or may not receive a fine if you do not vote in Federal,State or Council elections. USA also has a non compulsory vote and an often low turnout. In Australia we often hear ‘if you don’t vote you can’t complain.
Both USA and Australia are approaching elections. Will You Vote?
Why? Or Why not? (Keep it nice and keep it on voting, not specific
party issues please)
Was New Zealand 1st? You decide.