On the morning of October 21, 1966 a slag heap for a coal mine operated by the National Coal Board collapsed and covered the local school. As a result, 28 adults and 116 children died.
Dr Daryl Leeworthy writes about the politicisation of the women of Aberfan as part of the emergence of green politics and female environmental activism. Anti-nuclear activism by Elaine Morgan; Greenham Common; support for the 1984-5 miners strike:
If the phrase “women’s liberation” was not on the minds of those who established the women’s support group in the village, what it ultimately became was certainly similar to those women’s liberation groups that were established in Cardiff in 1970 and Swansea in 1972. They actively thought in those terms.
But in their own way, the questions being posed by the members of that pioneering Aberfan group were very similar. What is to be our role in the modern world? How can we make the world a better place? How can we make it safer and more equal.
In the years that followed, the answers varied. For some there was the motivation to win equal pay for equal work.
For others it was the battle to provide a safe environment for women on the streets at night. Others sought a safety net for women who experienced domestic violence.
Still more worried about the threat of nuclear weapons. And there were those who grew up in the shadow of the coal tips who thought carefully about a sustainable future.
The ideas that that generation of women activists considered and ultimately embraced remain as strong as their memories of first hearing the news on October 21, 1966.
Following a by-election for the seat of Copeland, MP Trudy Harrison was elected and sworn in on Wednesday.
This makes Ms Harrison the 456th woman elected to the UK Parliament since 1918. At least for now this means that the number of women elected since 1918 (456) is no longer less than the number of men in the current Parliament (454).
However, there are just 196 female MPs compared to the 454 male MPs in the current Parliament.
Frances Scott, who founded the 50:50 Parliament campaign for a gender equal legislature, told HuffPost UK it was “great we’ve got another women elected in parliament”.
But she added: “We now have 196 women at Westminster but men still outnumber women by more than two to one. So the organisation is still predominantly male and that has a major impact on the legislation and the way debate happens.”
SNP MP Hannah Bardell calls for respect to be shown to the Emily Wilding Davison memorial installed by the late Tony Benn MP.
On the night of the 1911 UK Census, Emily Wilding Davison hid in a cupboard in a service area of the House of Commons so that she could record her address as the 'House of Commons'.
Emily was the suffragette who died in June 1913, a few days after being trampled by the King's horse at the Epsom Derby.
Tony Benn placed a memorial plaque on the cupboard used by Emily and the significance of the cupboard and memorial seems to be disregarded.
Nicola Thorp, 27, began a petition after she was sent home from her temp job when she refused to wear shoes with a ‘2in to 4in heel’. The investigation - launched by the petitions committee - will look at what the problem is, what the law says and what could be done to make the law better, the government said.
Cathy Newman writes in the UK Telegraph about the century and a half since Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Emily Davies organised a petition to be presented to the UK parliament calling for female suffrage. The fact that suffrage has not turned into a fair share of representation is disappointing. Cathy Newman backs the 5050parliament campaign.
Our campaign is bolder - it would require equal gender representation to be mandated in the electoral law in Australia. This is possible for the UK as well.
If suffragettes Elizabeth Garrett and Emily (Davies) were to turn up in the lobby of the Palace of Westminster today – as they did exactly 150 ago – you could forgive them for feeling a little disappointed. A century and a half ago - on June 7, 1866 - they arrived at Parliament to present a petition calling for women to get the vote. While many decades later that battle has been won, Ms Garrett and Ms Davies would no doubt be dismayed to see how unequal the political world remains.
Of 649 MPs currently in the House of Commons, just 192 are women. In other words, there are nearly 140 per cent more men than women. More men get to plonk their bottoms on those green benches right now than the total number of female MPs throughout history.
Time for another petition, then.
While campaigns are two a penny these days – their currency devalued when they’re hijacked by the trolls and those with a vendetta to pursue – here’s one which deserves to be taken seriously - 50:50 Parliament, a cross-party campaign to get more women into Westminster, has posted its clarion call here. It’s perfectly possible that a lot of women have looked at the antics of the current inhabitants of the Westminster village and decided to give it a wide berth. But it’s also perfectly possible that among the 51 per cent of the UK population, there are some brilliant women out there just waiting to represent us all - if only they got the chance.
Emily Wilding Davison was born in 1872 and was active in the suffragette movement in the later 19th Century and early 20th Century. Emily hid in a cupboard in parliament house in 1911 so that she could record her address as parliament house. Emily was fatally injured when she entered the Epsom racetrack in 1913 and was trampled under the King's horse.
ABC News in the US reports on the unveiling of an artwork installed in the UK parliament to celebrate the struggle to obtain female suffrage:
The first abstract artwork created for permanent display in the 19th-century parliamentary complex, " New Dawn " was unveiled Tuesday on the 150th anniversary of the first mass petition to Parliament calling for women to have the right to vote. It would be more than 60 years before the goal was achieved, and artist Mary Branson wants her work to pay tribute to the thousands of people who fought for women's voting rights over the decades.
A few are well-known, especially the militant suffragettes who fought with protests, hunger strikes and even bombings. But Branson, who spent six months exploring Parliament's archives, said she was moved by "all the women that I'd never heard about, ordinary people like ourselves." "There were so many women coming in relentlessly day after day," she said. "Petitioning, protesting."
Branson calculated that almost 16,500 petitions featuring more than 3 million signatures calling for female suffrage were submitted to Parliament between 1866 and 1918, when women over 30 were granted the vote (full voting equality with men took another decade). "That said to me I needed to make something really big, and I needed to put it in a really powerful space," Branson said.
Branson found visual inspiration in Parliament's Act Room, where thousands of laws stretching back centuries are stored on parchment scrolls.
"New Dawn" consists of 168 circles of hand-blown glass inspired by the scrolls, mounted in a 4 meter-by-6 meter (13 foot-by-20 foot) ellipse. Branson said her glass scrolls are mounted atop a portcullis, an iron gate that is the traditional symbol of Parliament. In the artwork, the portcullis is open. "It's like women are here," Branson said. "We're in."
An image of the Parliament's Act Room can be seen on this page:
JULIAN VIGO draws together multiple issues affecting women including the recent protests made by French female politicians; sexual harassment in the workplace; poor representation in professions; poor pay and priorities for spending. Julian finishes by supporting the UK parliament5050 campaign. The question at the end is how to achieve 5050? We reckon that our democracy5050 model is a truly democratic option to be considered.
Effects on health
All this comes as no surprise to women who have been dealing with pay and promotion inequality for their entire lives with the added bonus of sexual harassment. But what are the costs of pay and promotion inequality in addition to sexual harassment? We already know that girls who routinely experience sexual harassment are significantly more likely to attempt suicide, but little is said about these repercussions on women who suffer “widespread and often serious health, emotional, and economic consequences.” And the economic impacts for discrimination and harassment are little explored in the media which are often the major factor playing into the future mental and physical health of women.
Loss of earnings in a lifetime
According to data published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (now part of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights), “the average woman working full-time could lose out on £330,000, in comparison with men’s earnings, over the course of her working life.” Similarly, they investigated similar inequalities within the financial sector specifically where the pay gap was explained in terms of: stereotyping in the recruitment processes, the sector’s extremely young age profile proves a challenge to those with children, the sector’s long hours’ culture also affects those with children, the intractability of senior leaders to take action on sex inequality and the lack of enforcement of good practices. Also according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, female graduates earn up to £8,000 less than males who studied the same subject.
Pay gap and the burden of being the primary care-giver
If the Fawcett Society’s 2008 report on women’s pay inequality wasn’t shocking enough then their 2013 study is enough to bring one to tears: “New figures from the Office of National Statistics published in December 2013 show the pay gap widening for the first time in five years.” And the reasons the Fawcett Society gives for this widening gap are the same reasons for sex-based oppression of women throughout recent history: women’s work is undervalued, more women work part-time, the “motherhood penalty,” and more generally that sex-based discrimination has not gone away. Because of their decreased earning power, women use their money quite differently: they invest in their children, the home, and they save over investing.
Less to invest
RateSetter carried out research which showed that men are significantly more likely to own investment products (66% of men compared to 48% of women). Data suggests that women do not tend to move towards long or short-term investment products simply because, according to this report, they have 50% less of disposable income at the end of each month.
Link to 50:50
And when one examines those countries with a closer economic parity between the sexes, one thing is painfully evident: that salary equality is maintained in countries where there is a balance of political representation of females and males.
Recently there was a petition, 50:50 Parliament, to request a 50% representation of women in Parliament because shockingly, in 2016 in the UK as well as other western countries, females are not fairly represented. With less than a 30% female presence in the House of Commons, one can only wonder if the more equitable presence of women in Parliament might not begin to effect real social change. And in the US, the representation of women in the 114th Congresses is lamentable with only 20 female senators out of a total of 100 (a 20% presence) and 84 female congress members in the House of Representatives out of 535 (a 19.4% presence).
I have recently written my MP, Mark Field, to request that he take action to ensure a 50% presence of women in Parliament. The larger question remains: how to effect this change?
This article notes that it is 150 years since Millicent Fawcett presented the first suffrage petition to the UK parliament. It is now time for a 5050 parliament!
50:50 Parliament is a contemporary petition asking all the party leaders for solutions to right this wrong. The disparity in the Commons is bad but the House of Lords is even worse: the name says it all. If Parliament is inaccessible to the majority that are women it must be inaccessible to many others. It needs sorting!
UK MP Angela Eagle discusses the steps towards greater involvement of women in the UK parliament and laments the fact that politics remains stuck in a masculine paradigm in language and male culture:
The past 30 years have seen steady and significant progress in women’s representation. When I was first elected to parliament in 1992, I was one of only 60 women out of 650. This doubled following Labour’s victory in 1997 and has crept up to 191 today – 10 times more than in Barbara Castle’s heyday.
The early progress was driven by the Labour party. But the Tories have started to up their game, returning 68 female MPs at the last general election. There is a long way to go – particularly in the Tory party – but we are seeing progress.
This has undoubtedly had an impact on the way politics is conducted, both in the Commons and elsewhere. While sexism is alive and well – take David Cameron’s instruction to me to “calm down dear” during prime minister’s questions in the last parliament, one of his least edifying moments. But some of the more blatant misogyny, the obscene gestures and insults that faced female MPs in previous years, have gone.
However, there is a paradox. Looking at the coverage of the current referendum campaign, you would be forgiven for thinking that little had changed. It is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Cameron and George Osborne on one side; Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage on the other. It is coming across more like an Eton playground spat than a serious debate about the future of our country.
This week, Harriet Harman, Seema Malhotra, Kate Green and I held a press conference in an attempt to redress the balance – to highlight the missing voices of women and the importance of the vote on EU membership for women at work. Needless to say, much of the coverage focused on a question about a comment Harman made about Kim Kardashian. That says it all, really. Women are not taken seriously.
Even the language of election campaigns can be unmistakably masculine. The talk is all of civil war; of the big guns being rolled out; of the big beasts battling away. The problem is, all these beasts are blokes.
The unwritten assumptions about what constitutes “strong leadership” are male too. A study by Loughborough University released this week found that just one in six politicians appearing on television to discuss the Europe question were women. In the press, it was one in 10. Of the top 10 politicians covered, all were male.
This is all sadly familiar. In a quarter of a century in politics, I’ve seen it time, and time and time again. Even when women are in the top team, they rarely find themselves at the forefront of election campaigns. Even those inside the top team can end up feeling like outsiders – marginalised, disregarded and invisible.
Whatever progress women make, the pattern seems set. Whenever an election is called it’s like a trapdoor opens up beneath the chairs of every female politician and we simply disappear from the scene. As soon as the campaign kicks off, our politics regresses to a bygone, men-only era.