“The proudest day of granny’s life was when the vote was won.

“The papers said it’s over; but gran had just begun.
“Her women’s committee went on to organise,

“And challenged – the union- the council and their lies.


“Granny was a suffragette – only five feet tall;

“Granny was a suffragette – took on city hall,
“Singing – votes for women is just the beginning,

“You haven’t seen anything yet –
“Granny was a suffragette.


“Now here I stand so proudly with my college degree,

“And my daughters have more options than granny could foresee,

“But if you think we’re satisfied, take a look around.

“There’s lots of angry women who won’t let their granny down.

“Granny was a suffragette – it’s as if she’s still alive;

“Granny was a suffragette – their voices still survive,

“Singing – votes for women is just the beginning, you haven’t seen anything yet –

“Granny was a suffragette.”


Presiding Officer, it is right that we come together today to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage. Although I have to say, I struggle a little with the words we use.

Is it a celebration when the right to vote is such a fundamental one?

Is it a commemoration? We commemorate the start and end of wars. Although I suppose this is a war of sorts.


Commemorations remember service and sacrifice, and we are certainly doing that.

They also serve as opportunities to learn the lessons of history and apply them to the present.


So what did we learn from the suffragettes?

In the simplest terms, we learnt that the path to equality is full of obstacles – and that those obstacles can be overcome.

But we’ve also learned that not only can we find a way over them, we can remove those obstacles from the path of people who come after us.

The suffragettes removed the obstacles that allow us to stand in this chamber.

It therefore follows that in this chamber we must remove the obstacles that women beyond it face.



Commemorations are also moments of reflection. What would Emily Davidson, the Pankhursts and Mona Geddes have made of the last 100 years?

I suspect they would have been proud, but far from satisfied.

Would they believe that women were still underpaid for the work that they would do?

Could they believe that 100 years on, two women would die a week at the hands of their partners?

That 80,000 women a year would be raped, 400,000 sexually assaulted, countless more harassed?

Would they rally against 21st century workhouses? Could they comprehend that low pay and insecure work would still exist?

That 100 years on women would still work a full week and struggle to put food on the table?


Commemorate yes, celebrate no.

I’m too angry – and I’m still marching.

Looking at Twitter this morning, I was struck by how many purple white and green ribbons, the colours of the suffragettes, have been tied to statutes and monuments connected to the suffragettes across London.

We can’t do that here, because there are more statues for dogs in this capital city than there are for women.

We still teach too little about women’s history and the fight for equality.

And if it’s not taught, how will we ever learn?


I can’t and I won’t wait 100 more years for gender equality.

I won’t wait ten. I want it now and I will strive for it with every breath of my working life; because it remains a cause of natural justice and the block to economic progress.

And that’s as true of our country today as it is of every other around the world.


The first place in the world to give women the vote was New Zealand in 1893. It is no coincidence that’s the same country that barely blinks when its 37-year-old Prime Minister announces she’ll give birth while in office and her husband will take extended leave.

At the other end of the scale, as recently as 2015, Saudi Arabia was debating the merits of universal suffrage. One planet, same debate, 115 years apart.


Labour leader Richard Leonard asks to consider where we will be in 100 years. Let me ponder what they’ll make of us and what we did in our time.

In 100 years might there be statues for Malala Yousafzai, who history will remember as championing the rights of young women to an education first in Pakistan, and then across the globe.

Might they remember Gina Miller who took the UK government to court and won parliament’s right to vote on Article 50? Might that yet be the day that the path of Brexit was altered?


Or might we see statues for women like Fadumo Dayib who fled the violence of Somalia in the ‘90s, only to return to stand for the presidency – doing so solely to champion the rights of women and the end of Female Genital Mutilation.


The stories of these women or any others will only be known if they are taught and told. That’s why there is so more work to do here at home.



Share This