Beth Farhat column: women must use the rights won for them by the sufragettes

After International Women's Day, the regional leader of the TUC reflects on how the election will affect women workers

Iain Buist Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC
Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC

All around the world women choose different ways to mark our day. The emphasis may be on liberation struggles, on women’s working conditions, on freedom from hunger or violence, or simply a celebration of the strength, vitality and potential of women.

There seems to be a buzz of excitement and activity around International Women’s Day this year. There were over 30 events planned across the North East for IWD. This response could be because this is not panning out to be a very good year for women, at home or overseas, and yesterday provided an opportune moment to do something about it and make our voices heard.

Unemployment, underemployment, and precarious, poor quality, low paid work are increasingly characteristic of women’s work. As the public sector loses more (predominantly women’s) jobs with every day that goes by, the chances are that women’s unemployment – in particular, young women’s unemployment – is only going to get worse.

If the motions to the TUC’s women’s conference and TUC Congress are any indicator of what working women want, the coalition would do well to look at some alternative strategies for winning women’s votes. How about defending abortion rights, halting the savage cuts to public sector jobs, ring-fencing Sure Start funding, increasing the childcare element of tax credits, committing more funding to ending violence against women and girls, safeguarding the NHS and strengthening (rather than weakening) employment rights and equality legislation?

It’s times like these that it is even more important to remember the suffragist groups that existed all over the country and under many different names but all with a common aim: to achieve the right to vote. Their fight was hard-pressed, but they secured a victory that has provided a legacy and opportunity for all women hence.

Trade unions have been campaigning for a while to encourage their women members to register and to engage with the democratic process and will continue to do so. Unions represent thousands of female members, many of whom who fall into the low-paid part-time workers category.

This general election is one of the most crucial in decades. The future of our lives as women is in the balance. It is vital that this year women’s voices count through the ballot box.

I would urge all women to register to vote and exercise their democratic right to vote. Emily Wilding Davison, one of the most famous of the Suffragettes, was from Morpeth, so we have a regional pedigree for amazing women and equality in democracy that is pretty inspirational.

The last date for registering is April 20 and it can be done easily online in five minutes.

The economic, social and equality gains made by women past and present are under threat. We’ve come a long way in 100 years but there’s still a long way to go. Make sure you have a say in your journey – vote.

Beth Farhat, Regional Secretary Northern TUC


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