Today is a momentous day. One hundred years ago, the Represention of the People Act was passed, meaning that for the first time women could vote alongside men and determine who runs our country.
As a union with more than a million women members, this is obviously an anniversary that means a great deal to UNISON. The point at which women were able to express their views at the ballot box was the point at which they could begin to take charge of their own destiny. That principle is right at the heart of our union – a union for women, where women make our policies, run our campaigns and lead at every level.
Of course, 1918 was only the first step on a journey that has so much further to go. It took ten more years until all women were granted the right to vote – the disenfranchisement of working class women lasted a decade longer. And in 2018, we are still far from an equal society.
You only need to look at Parliament to see that. Because while women may have an equal right to vote in elections and be elected to Parliament, they do not have equal representation in our nation’s corridors of power.
Today, only 32% of MPs and only 15% of local council leaders are women.
Despite huge efforts from so many people – including the introduction of all women shortlists in the Labour Party that our union supports – Parliament and council chambers are still too male-dominated.
There is still so much more to do. The road to true equality has so many more steps to take. The last year has shown us that gender inequality – of power, or wealth and of opportunity – is still rife in our country.
Yet as we look back at what has been achieved in the past century, I am optimistic. And I am proud of our union and excited by its capacity to fight for true equality.
UNISON has more women members than any organisation in the country – and so must be at the forefront of the next century of this fight for equality. A union that didn’t have that fight at its heart wouldn’t be the union I know. And I know that in the years ahead UNISON – and particularly UNISON women in Parliament, in your workplaces and in our communities – will continue to make our country and fairer, better and more equal place.