An incredible revolution has been evident over the past 100 years, which has transformed the lives of women.
Opportunities have been created, expectations have been surpassed, and women now are on track to having equivalent rights and standards to that of males. Changes in the law have empowered women to gain the right to vote, right to an education, right to divorce, the right to abortions, as well as provide for them a platform to advocate for issues that were not previously addressed.
With women’s networking events, International Women’s Day and many inspiring and empowering ladies willing to share their stories, things are continuing to change. That said I still fear we still have a long way to go before there is a real gender balance, but I remain positive and continue to support those that push women’s rights forward.
So what has happened over the last 100 years?
1. The right to vote
Women’s suffrage was a movement to advocate for and promote the rights of females to be given the ability to vote in elections, a right that was previously dismissed. It has been one hundred years since the Representation of People Act 1918 came into force. However, despite the passing of this legislation, and the success in fighting for equality for women, men’s rights still surpassed that of females.
In that only women over the age of 30 who owned a house, or was married to someone that did, possessed the capacity to vote. This created a stark divide between the poor and the wealthy and eliminated a great portion of women who did not have the opportunity to voice their opinion in elections. Although it did not provide women with the equivalent rights to men, it did initiate a significant step in the right direction for the fight for equality for women. Ireland and Azerbaijan were the initial states to grant women the right to vote in 1918, which outpaced that of the UK’s progress on suffrage.
2. Matrimonial Causes Act 1937
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1937 allowed going forward either party to a marriage the ability to file for a divorce.
Prior to its enactment, women had no power to divorce from their partners, unless they could verify that their husbands had partaken in adultery or proven offences that violate the sanctity of a marriage such as cruelty or incest could be proven. This imbalance of power within the relationship was strikingly evident and amplified the notion of gender inequality, as men’s right significantly outpaced that of women’s.
Divorce liberalisation was a notion that was highly sought after by feminist networks and societies, as they fought for a more equitable treatment between men and women. This was the start of modernising the divorce laws and transformed the lives of women.
2. The right to abortions
The 1967 Abortion Act and the 1946 NHS Act have impacted women’s rights to healthcare. It legalised abortions in all of Great Britain up to 28 weeks of pregnancy and permitted the National Health Services to suggest them to patients. However, in 1990, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act amended this so that abortions were not legal after 24 weeks and that two doctors must both certify the need for an abortion. This was a landmark position for women, as this ground-breaking legislation expanded women’s rights to healthcare and control over their own bodies.
4. The right to contraception
Similar to that of the right to legal and safe abortions, the right to contraception is another defining decision for women within the United Kingdom. When first introduced, the pill was only offered to women by the NHS who were older and did not want any more children. The government did not want to be seen as promoting promiscuity.
However, this was amended through the NHS (Family Planning) act 1967, making contraception readily available. It gave local health authorities and family planning clinics the power to suggest the pill to women regardless of their marital status. It allowed for the provision of health advice to a much wider audience.
5. The right to equal pay
The disparity between men and women’s income has become a major point of contention within the last few years. The gender pay gap is essentially the variance between men and women’s average hourly earnings. However, as of 4 April 2018, all organisations in Great Britain, excluding Northern Island, that employs over 250 individuals must publicly declare and report their gender pay gap to the Government Equalities Office (GEO).
Under this new regulation, companies are also required to publish the percentage of men and women that receive bonuses. As per the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Equality Act 2010, it is considered unlawful for companies to pay individuals undertaking the same role or ‘work of equivalent value’ differently on the basis of their sex. This is a breakthrough for attempting to overcome the gender pay gap issue, as this will create awareness and amplify any stark discrepancies between male and female employees in the same or similar position. It is interesting to note only 500 of the 9000 qualifying companies have yet published this information.
6. Shared parental leave
The introduction of the revised parental leave legislation enables both parents to take their time off regardless of their gender. This legislation came into force in April 2015. This allows for greater flexibility when arranging maternity or paternity leave, as parents can take it simultaneously or separately for a year after a child is born. This is an important advancement for modern society and an important development for gender equality. This means that women can go back to work earlier, and the fathers can take their paid paternity leave in replacement.
7. Same sex adoption
The UK parliament passed legislation in the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which enabled same sex and unmarried couples to adopt children. It came into fruition in December 2005. Prior to the reform, unmarried individuals were made to adopt children separately, giving their partners minimal parental rights. Thus, this legislation was a remarkable development for single parents and especially same sex couples.
8. Marital rape deemed unlawful
Marital rape has been an alarming and particularly distressing topic within the last decade or so. Primarily, it is the act of non-consensual sexual intercourse within a marriage, that is now, rightfully so, declared as domestic violence and sexual assault. Historically though, this conduct was considered lawful, and a right that was deemed to spouses. In other words, marriage meant an implied consent to sexual intercourse.
However, this was completely overturned in the breakthrough case of R V R  UKHL 12. It condemned the possibility of a husband’s immunity to non – consensual intercourse and criminalised it.
9. The Sex Discrimination Act
Sexual discrimination against women has been an issue of concern, especially as of recently. It has been an issue that has been especially within the public eye within the last year, with several allegations surfacing around Hollywood.
However, in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act UK declared it to be illegal to discriminate against men and women in work, education, and training on the grounds of marital status or sex. This was a significant act demanded by the women’s movement. It was a huge stepping stone for women, legally, but we now have to shape the culture and empower women to take action rather than staying silent , when there are now laws and mechanisms in place for them.
So much has taken place. There are many legal changes, but culturally we still have a long way to go for women to: see a genuine gender balance, have the confidence to seek equal pay and promotions, for more senior roles to be afforded to women and for management to embrace modern society in relation to female workers by sending the message throughout the top tier and down that things should and can change.