2018 marks the centenary of the passing of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which enshrined in law the right of women to sit in the House of Commons. In November, we celebrated 100 years since the law was passed, and over 300 women visited Westminster for an event encouraging more women to stand for election, organised by campaign group 50:50 Parliament.
To celebrate the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, the women of GK have compiled a list of fifteen political firsts by women in Parliament:
- Constance Markievicz: The first woman to elected to Parliament, 1918. The General Election held in December 1918 saw 8.5m women eligible to vote for the very first time. It also saw the election of the first female MP. Constance Markievicz won the seat of Dublin St Patrick’s from a cell in Holloway prison. However, as a member of Sinn Fein, she did not take her seat. The following year Nancy Astor would become the first woman to take her seat, serving as an MP until 1945.
- Margaret Bondfield – first female Cabinet Minister, 1929
- Margaret Thatcher – first female Prime Minister, 1979
- Baroness Janet Young of Farnworth – first woman Leader of the House of Lords, 1981
- Diane Abbott – first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons, 1987
- Baroness Betty Boothroyd – first woman Speaker of the House of Commons, 1992
- Dame Anne Begg – first female permanent wheelchair user, 1997
- Angela Eagle – first female MP to come out in office (1997) and the first female MP to enter into a civil partnership (2008)
- Baroness Valerie Amos of Brondesbury – first black woman to serve in a Cabinet, 2003
- Yasmin Qureshi, Rushanara Ali and Shabana Mahmood – first female Muslim MPs, 2010
- Yvette Cooper – the first woman Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 2008, and the first female minister to have a baby in government (2001)
- Baroness Hayman GBE – the Lords’ first ever Speaker, 2006
- Justine Greening – first female Cabinet minister to come out in office, 2016
- Preet Gill – first Sikh female MP, 2017
- Nusrat Ghani – first Muslim woman minister to speak from the Commons dispatch box, 2018
These are just some of the achievements by the women of Parliament – we would need a whole separate website to do the full list justice!
While the passing of the of the Qualification of Women Act was a significant step forward for women seeking election, there is still a significant way to go. Since 1918, there have been 4,503 male MPs to just 491 women. This is just plain wrong, and our democracy is poorer for it.
As the past 100 years has demonstrated, being legally able to stand does not lead to greater equality. There is also much more to do for greater representation for individuals identifying as LQBTQ, BAME community members and those with disabilities, as well as individuals who sit at the intersections of these groups.
We have seen many firsts over the past 100 years, may the next 100 see a greater representation of our society.