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Main reasons for Drive towards Equality in Men and Women

| October 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

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Abstract 

The 20th Century saw great advances in equality politics between men and women, particularly in the Western world. These reforms must have had political triggers, but what were the key drivers towards equal opportunities? This essay will argue that reform in Britain was the result of previous political action in the 19th Century, accompanied by the catalyst on extenuating circumstances during World War I and World War II. Precedents will be examined to determine what action preceded suffrage and prove that the war effort served to prove the capabilities and value of women in society.

The 20th Century was a significant turning point in the battle for equality of the sexes across the globe. Every country and nation has moved at it’s own pace in delivering equal opportunities to its citizens, but the 20th Century saw many breakthroughs, particularly in the Western world. This essay shall examine the key drivers and motives behind this equality reform with particular focus on British politics. I will argue that the key drivers towards reform were the building political pressure set in place in the 19th Century and the impact of the First and Second World War on society.

Although major reforms such as women’s suffrage took place in the early 1900’s these political amendments were not a brand new issue. The changes in the 20th Century were preceded by increasing political action throughout the latter half of the 19th Century. Women started to rebel against the double standard inherent in the “separate spheres” ideology which had been enforced for hundreds of years, excluding from public life and confining them to a more domestic existence.[1] However it is a fallacy that women remained completely absent from political life during these years, as middle class women often played supporting roles for their husbands.[2] Towards the end of the 19th Century women such as Josephine Butler, Lydia Becker and Elizabeth Wolstenholme paved the way for reform by breaking with traditional gender roles and becoming politically active in the public sphere.[3] Campaigns such as the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts 1860-1886 and for Married Women’s Property Rights saw great victories for women’s political activism which encouraged women to fight for their civil rights and influenced the suffrage movement.[4]

The women’s suffrage movement that took place in the first two decades of the 20th Century was arguably the most important step towards equality of the sexes. However the campaign launched by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst actually did very little to change the laws. Pankhurst held radical feminist views[5], describing herself in her autobiography as “militant” and her work as a “woman’s revolution.”[6] This militant behaviour did little to win over the favour of the government, but did succeed in keeping the issue of women’s equality in the public eye. It was the more endearing behaviour of women during the World Wars, especially the First World War 1914-1918, that proved the value of women and gained them additional rights and equality.

The First World War disrupted the campaigns of women greatly as supporting the troops took precedent. However new campaigns soon surfaced as women demanded the right to aid in the war effort. A large demonstration was held in Londonin 1915 as women protested for their “right-to-serve” in non-combat industries such as munitions factories.[7] Also in 1915 a certificate was issued to the ‘Women’s Land Army’, stating that any woman who laboured in agriculture during the war is “as truly serving her country as the man who is fighting in the trenches.”[8] Between 1915 and 1918 over one million women became employed in industries helping the war effort.[9] Some women were even brave enough to enter the battlefields as doctors, nurses and surgeons, risking their own lives for their country.[10] Women’s activities during the war not only proved their level of courage and loyalty through national service, but also showed that their abilities greatly outweighed that which had previously been attributed to them. An agriculture report from 1918 testified that women’s ‘shortcomings’ were “the result of want of training rather than that of zeal or capacity.”[11] In recognition of their toBritain women over 30 were given the right to vote in 1918. The law was extended to any woman over the age of 21 in 1928.

By the Second World War women had achieved suffrage and were now in a position to fight for more mundane but significant civil rights, which would not have previously been an option to them. In 1941 women fought against the poor quality of accommodation awarded to them when they were once again employed heavily in the war effort.[12] This demonstrates how far the rights of women had progressed to become equal with that of men: their value and contributions to the nation had become recognised, allowing them the power and right to fight for equality and better standards of living. Women also became skilled labourers due to the training they received in war-time occupation, allowing them to carve a niche for themselves in industry in times of peace and cementing an economic role for women.[13]

The pattern of revolution displayed by Britainthroughout the 20th Century is mirrored in other Western cultures. Canadian women won the vote in 1918 also, and women in the US won the right to vote in 1920. These achievements were also following years of preceding activism on behalf of women, during which time they campaigned for birth control rights[14] and took part in philanthropic movements. Yet it was the contribution of women to the war efforts that lead to the reform of civil rights at the end of the 1910s.

In conclusion the main drivers towards men and women’s equality in Britainin the 20th Century were the extenuating circumstances created by the First and Second World War. Women had begun to prove their worth in the public sphere during the 19th Century by implementing social reform, and they continued to display courage and ability when such qualities were desperately needed during the World Wars. Although other Western cultures were influenced by the war in similar circumstances there are still many countries worldwide in which women are treated as inferior to men.

 

Bibliography

Primary

Certificate issued to members of the Women’s Land Army, 1915 (PRO ref: MAF 42/8), sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf’, access date10/09/2012

Extract from the Report of the Board of Agriculture, October 1918, (PRO ref: MAF 59/2) sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf’, access date10/09/2012.

Extracts from the Report of the War Cabinet committee on Women In Industry, published in 1919, (PRO ref: MUN 5/88/342/18), ), sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf’, access date10/09/2012

Fawcett, Millicent G., What I Remember (London, 1925)

Hart, R A. (2009). ‘Did British women achieve long‐term economic benefits from working in essential WWII industries?’. Stirling Economics Discussion Paper # 4006, sourced from ‘http://dspace.stir.ac.uk/bitstream/1893/797/1/SEDP-2009-05-Hart.pdf.’, access date10/09/12.

Pankhurst, Emmeline, My Own Story, (London, 1914)

The Illustrated London News, July 24, 1915.- 109, sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf, access date 10/09/2012

 

Secondary

Chalus, Elaine, ‘Elite Women, Social Politics, and the Political World of Late Eighteenth-Century England’, The Historical Journal, 43, 3 (2000)

Dawson, Sandra Trudgen, ‘Busy and Bored: The Politics of Work and Leisure for Women Workers in the Second World War British Government Hostels’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2010).

Kennedy, David M., Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, (Yale University, 1970).

Purvis, June, Pankhurst: A Biography, (Routledge, 2002)

Roberts, M. J. D., ‘Feminism and the State in Later Victorian England’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Mar., 1995)

Smith, Angela K., Suffrage Discourse in Britain during the First World War, (Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2005).

Vickery, Amanda, ‘Historiographical Review: Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Women’s History’, The Historical Journal, 36, 2 (1993)



[1] Amanda Vickery, ‘Historiographical Review: Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Women’s History’, The Historical Journal, 36, 2 (1993), p. 401

[2] Elaine Chalus, ‘Elite Women, Social Politics, and the Political World of Late Eighteenth-Century England’, The Historical Journal, 43, 3 (2000), p. 670

[3] M. J. D. Roberts, ‘Feminism and the State in Later Victorian England’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), p. 89

[4] Millicent G. Fawcett, What I Remember (London, 1925), p. 118

[5] June Purvis, Pankhurst: A Biography, (Routledge, 2002), p. 7

[6] Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story, (London, 1914), introduction

[7] The Illustrated London News, July 24, 1915.- 109, sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf, access date 10/09/2012

[8] Certificate issued to members of the Women’s Land Army, 1915 (PRO ref: MAF 42/8), sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf’, access date10/09/2012

[9] Extracts from the Report of the War Cabinet committee on Women In Industry, published in 1919, (PRO ref: MUN 5/88/342/18), ), sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf’, access date10/09/2012

[10] Angela K. Smith, Suffrage Discourse in Britain during the First World War, (Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2005), p. 78

[11] Extract from the Report of the Board of Agriculture, October 1918, (PRO ref: MAF 59/2) sourced at ‘http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/pdf/complete_g4_cs4.pdf’, access date10/09/2012

[12] Sandra Trudgen Dawson, ‘Busy and Bored: The Politics of Work and Leisure for Women Workers in the Second World War British Government Hostels’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2010), p. 33

[13] Hart, R A. (2009). ‘Did British women achieve long‐term economic benefits from working in essential WWII industries?’. Stirling Economics Discussion Paper # 4006, sourced from ‘http://dspace.stir.ac.uk/bitstream/1893/797/1/SEDP-2009-05-Hart.pdf.’, access date10/09/12.

[14] David M. Kennedy, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, (Yale University, 1970)

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