London marks 100th anniversary of women’s rights to vote

The statue of women’s rights campaigner Millicent Fawcett will stand alongside those of 11 men, including Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi and anti-apartheid figurehead Nelson Mandela.

To mark the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, the first statue of a woman in London’s Parliament Square was unveiled recently.

Prime Minister Theresa May, Britain’s second female premier after Margaret Thatcher led the unveiling ceremony.

Were it not for Millicent Fawcett, “I would not be here today as prime minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in parliament, none of us would have the rights we now enjoy,” May said.

“The struggle to achieve votes for women was long and arduous,” and Fawcett “devoted her life to the cause”.

May said Millicent Fawcett faced decades of fierce opposition as she campaigned on women’s rights throughout Britain and the wider world.

“It is right and proper that, today, she takes her place at the heart of our democracy,” May said, whilst warning that the fight for equality was “far from won”.

A statue of women’s rights campaigner Millicent Fawcett by British artist Gillian Wearing is unveiled in Parliament Square in London

The statue marks February’s centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which extended the vote to around eight million women aged over 30.

It was not until 1928 that British women gained the same voting rights as men, but the 1918 act was a major step that put the kingdom ahead of some contemporaries such as France.

The statue was created by British artist Gillian Wearing, who won the 1997 Turner Prize for visual arts. She is the first woman to produce a statue for Parliament Square.

The monument shows Millicent Fawcett holding a placard reading “Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere”, in tribute to a speech she gave upon the death of Suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson at the 1913 Epsom Derby horse race.

Millicent Fawcett was a Suffragist, part of a moderate movement that predated the more militant Suffragettes. She is best known for her campaigns to improve women’s opportunities in higher education and was a co-founder of the women-only Newnham College at Cambridge University. She was also president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies between 1897 and 1901.

Millicent Fawcett began her career in the political platform at twenty-two at the first women’s suffrage meeting. As leader of NUWSS, she was a moderate campaigner, distancing herself from the militant and violent activities of suffragettes like the Pankhursts and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

She believed their actions were harming women’s chances of gaining the vote as they were alienating the MPs who were debating this topic and souring public opinion towards the campaign. Despite the publicity given to the WSPU, the NUWSS, one of whose slogans was “Law-Abiding suffragists”, retained most support for the women’s movement.

By 1905, Fawcett’s NUWSS had 305 constituent societies and almost fifty thousand members. In 1913 they had 50,000 members compared with the WSPU’s 2,000.[Fawcett mainly fought for women’s right to vote, and found home rule to be “a blow to the greatness and prosperity of England as well as disaster and … misery and pain and shame”. Millicent Fawcett died in 1929 at age 82.

The 11 pre-existing statues in the square are of former British prime ministers Churchill, David Lloyd George, Viscount Palmerston, the Earl of Derby, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel and George Canning; South Africa’s PM Jan Smuts and president Mandela; US president Abraham Lincoln, and Gandhi.

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I am a woman who is passionate about empowering other women to live their best lives and be free from unhealthy societal expectations. I'm a journalist and a columnist with a reputable media house. I educate, inspire and encourage women to embrace their uniqueness fully. I am a mother to an intelligent girl. I love perfumes.

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