So, the notion I’m going to deal with is idea of progress. First, let me give you a definition of the notion. Progress can be defined as an improvement, a development or a change, or as a technical, scientific or social advance which contributes to making the world a better place. I’m going to focus on progress of the rights of women in the United Kingdom. Well, the issue I’m going to raise is: in what domain did the rights of women evolve during the 20th century? We are going to answer this problem in a chronological way.
To begin with, I would like to talk about the improvement of the right to vote at the beginning of the 20th century, through a photo of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragette movement. Indeed, the suffragettes were women fighting for women’s right to vote, by means of organized protest. In this picture, we can see a policeman holding her up: she was arrested outside Buckingham Palace, while trying to present a petition to the King, in May 1914. In the United Kingdom in the early 20th century, the suffragettes initiated a campaign of demonstrations and militant actions, after the repeated defeat of women’s suffrage bills in Parliament. In 1918 they won the vote for women over the age of 30 and with « property », and ten years later were given full equality with men in voting rights.
Furthermore, the movie « The Suffragettes », which is a 2015 British historical drama film, illustrates perfectly well the fight of women at the beginning of the 20th century to obtain this right.
Next, we will see the advance of the wages of women in the sixties and seventies. I would like to talk about a document entitled “No surrender”. This is an excerpt from the script of the movie “Made in Dagenham” directed in 2010 by William Ivory. This extract is about the protests of the underpaid women of the Ford car factory of Dagenham, in east London. Led by Rita O’Grady, they decided to fight against pay discrimination, and met Barbara Castle, the Secretary of State for Employment. Mrs. Castle said she supported the struggle for equal pay, but she said that it would take time, and in front of Rita’s determination, she tried to negotiate a partial increase. Through this script, the movie wants to shows us that women had to rebel to obtain their rights. Finally, in 1970, the Equal Pay Act was voted. However, it will come fully into practice five years later, but above all, it established the principle of an equal pay for an equal work.
Then, to complete, I would like to talk about the others important steps forward, like the right to divide the family property in case of a divorce, abortion, contraception… To illustrate this, we will see one document, an extract from a history book entitled « Chronicle of Britain » published in 1992. Thus, the document shows us that the Matrimonial Property Act of 1970 laid down a division of the family home between wife and husband in case of a divorce, because the wife’s work, whether in jobs outside or as a housewife, must be regarded as an equal contribution in comparison to that of the husband. Completed by other rights obtained over time as the availability of the contraception, or the Abortion Act in 1967, these rights symbolized a new freedom for women in the sixties, even if feminism in the UK was not as pronounced as in the USA.
As a conclusion, I would say that progress of the women’s right is noticeable in the domain of vote, of equal salary, but also in that of property or birth control. The situation of women largely evolved during the 20th century in Great Britain, thanks to the women’s movements who fought with determination to make the situation improve.
Moreover, I think we can link this figure to the notion of myths and heroes: indeed, the women who fought for their rights, like Emmeline Pankhurst or other suffragettes who made brave things like hunger strikes or Emily Devison who stepped in front of the King’s horse on Derby day, and died with a « vote for women » banner in her hands, must be recognized as heroines because it is thanks to their actions that women have been able to acquire the rights they enjoy today.