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A century after the first breakthrough on votes for women there is still much more to do on equality

Date: 06 February 2018 Shopworkers trade union leader John Hannett has called for redoubling of efforts to tackle longstanding women’s inequality on the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which was the first time some women were allowed to vote.
John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Today it is right that we celebrate the brave and principled women who made huge sacrifices to campaign for votes for women. Although the 1918 Act limited the vote to women over 30 only, it was an important breakthrough that ultimately led to equal voting rights. However there is still much more to do on women’s equality, not least in elected representation. Despite recent advances, at the current rate it is estimated it will take another nine general elections for women MPs to reach parity in the House of Commons. That simply is not good enough.

“In the world of work, women’s equality still leaves many challenges. It is  more than forty years since the introduction of two landmark pieces of legislation that were intended to protect women from unfair treatment and help achieve equality for women at work – the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. Yet progress to close the gender pay gap has stalled and some studies suggest it has now started to widen, as women unfairly bear the brunt of austerity.

“Young women are increasingly likely to be working in low paid jobs. The numbers of 16-24 year-old women doing low paid work has tripled over the last 20 years. The proportion of young women working as managers or senior officials has also declined. If you are young you are far more likely to be paid below the Living Wage and if you are a young woman your chances of being low paid are even higher.

“Strong employment and equality rights during pregnancy and maternity leave are absolutely necessary to enable women to enter and remain in paid work and earn an independent income. Yet the most recent research on pregnancy discrimination found that half of all working pregnant women and new mothers had experienced some form of pregnancy discrimination.

“The basic human right to live a life free from violence is denied to millions of women and girls every day. It is estimated that violence against women internationally is the cause of more death and injury than malaria, cancer, traffic accidents and war put together. In the UK this violence takes many forms including: Domestic violence; rape and sexual violence; sexual harassment; forced marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation. Although some men may experience violence of this kind, these acts are overwhelmingly carried out by men against women.

“Usdaw has a proud history of promoting women’s representation. Margaret Bondfield, through the union, brought the plight of shop assistants and the ‘living-in’ system to the public eye and went on to become the country’s first woman cabinet minister. However, women’s equality is not a battle of the past but remains at the forefront of the Usdaw’s industrial and political agendas.”

Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 430,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 28% over the decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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