Women’s suffrage: ‘We have made fantastic progress over the last 100 years, but we must continue our efforts’

Councillor Lynda Needham has given her thoughts after the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage this

Councillor Lynda Needham has given her thoughts after the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage this week. Main picture: Suffragettes marching in London to protest the first arrest of a suffragette in London. Picture: PA - Credit: Archant

Councillor Lynda Needham, leader of North Herts District Council, reflects on the role of women in society – the progress that’s been made in striving for equality, and the work that still needs to be done.

For women in the United Kingdom, this is a special year – being the 100th anniversary of females getting the vote.

The past 100 years have brought many positive changes, but there is still quite a way to go for women in public life to reach equal status with men, despite the UK population having a nearly 50/50 split.

Although we have now had two women Prime Ministers, the proportion of women reaching high level positions is still worrying, with a significant gender pay gap in many sectors.

While public sector organisations have come on in leaps and bounds in terms of flexible working and family friendly policies, this does not always seem to extend to being more creative and flexible, so that women are able to fulfil their career aspirations, while still maintaining a decent family life.

However, during the years I have been an elected councillor for North Herts, I have witnessed the number of women councillors swing from as little as six of 49 members, to our current position of 15 of 49. Even more encouraging are the younger councillors with growing families, who are then able to bring younger family perspectives into debates and decision making. I am also pleased to see that female local authority chief executives are steadily growing in number.

Hertfordshire is one of the few areas within the UK where, of the 10 district and borough leaders, 50 per cent are female. Often when further afield, female attendance at meetings drops considerably and even now, on occasion, I am the only female present in a room.

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When out canvassing at election time, I find it immensely frustrating that there are a significant proportion of women who just have no inclination to vote. Even though we are 100 years on, perhaps history in school should cover the topic in more depth to try and encourage and inspire young women to get out there and vote. We should nevertheless be encouraged by both the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and First Minister of Scotland being female. We have made some fantastic progress in striving for equality for women in both life and pay over the last 100 years. I sincerely hope that we can continue our efforts and give women the opportunities and recognition they deserve.