National Democracy Week

National Democracy Week logo

National Democracy Week is a new initiative, designed to celebrate progress and champion democratic participation. This, its first year, also falls in the anniversary year of (some) women being given the vote.

We’re running a week-long series of blog posts around women in politics. As part of that, here’s a brief timeline showing important legislation that changed women’s lives — it’s interesting to read it in tandem with our timeline on women in Parliament and the first mentions of feminist words and phrases in Parliament.

Where possible, we have linked to our Parliamentary website TheyWorkForYou. TheyWorkForYou makes it simple to find out who your member of Parliament is, to see how they’ve voted, and to read everything they’ve said in debates, as far back as 1919. We also publish each day’s activity.

  1. 1870

    1. This is mine

      The Married Women’s Property Act saw women as the legal owners of money they earned, and allowed them to inherit property. Until this point, everything a woman owned or earned became her husband’s property when she married.

  2. 1918

    1. Some women gain the vote

      The Representation of the People Act became law in February of this year: some women (those over 30, married to a property owner or registered property owners themselves) are given the vote.

      Representation of the People Act (no known copyright restrictions)

  3. 1928

    1. More suffrage equality

      The Equal Franchise Act gave all women the vote at the age of 21 – the same as men, at the time. Here’s the debate around it, and the division. Fun fact: the law didn’t come into force early enough in this year for North Lanarkshire’s Labour candidate Jennie Lee to vote for herself at age 24 — but she was still elected.

      Notable suffragettes, including Millicent Fawcett, after royal assent has been given to the Equal Franchise Act (no known copyright restrictions)

  4. 1964

    1. A bit more financial independence

      The revision of the Married Woman’s Property Act allowed married women to keep half of any savings they’d made from the allowance paid to them by their husbands, giving stay-at-home wives a little more independence, while at the same time highlighting their financial bondage to men.

  5. 1967

    1. The right to choose

      Passing of the Abortion Act – in England, Scotland and Wales (but not, as has been in the news lately, in Northern Ireland) the passing of this act meant that an abortion could be legally carried out up to the 24-week limit, and could be legal beyond that where the mother’s health is threatened or if there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities.

      National Abortion Campaign badges: Wellcome images

  6. 1970

    1. Paying women the same as men

      The Equal Pay Act brought the requirement for ‘equal pay for equal work’, prohibiting any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of money and conditions of employment: it didn’t come into force until 29 December 1975.

  7. 1975

    1. No more sending women home when they married.

      The Sex Discrimination Act passed earlier that year, too, making it illegal to specify gender in job adverts, and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of marriage. It is interesting to read the debates ahead of its passing (such as this one in the Lords) with the benefit of hindsight on what became of the fears voiced.

      Sex Discrimination Act: no known copyright restrictions.

  8. 1985

    1. Tackling FGM

      The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act made female genital mutilation a crime throughout the UK.

  9. 2003

    1. Changing the vocabulary

      The Female Genital Mutilation Act was passed, updating the terminology used by the 1985 legislation and adding onto it to additionally outlaw UK residents taking a child abroad to undergo FGM.

  10. 2010

    1. Fairness for all

      The Equal Pay Act was one of several pieces of legislation revised and merged into the Equality Act, extending equal treatment to all, irrespective of gender, sexuality, race, disability, religion, age and marital status. Read some of the lively debates that accompanied its passage here.

      A woman on a march holds up a sign saying 'Equality for all'. Image by Shaun Dawson.
      Image: Shaun Dawson, CC by-nd 2.0

  11. 2017

    1. Added transparency

      Any organisation with 250 or more employees must publish and report specific figures about their gender pay gap — the difference between the average earnings of men and women. The move was passed as part of the legislation outlined in the Queen’s speech.

      A sign from a march protestor, saying 'I earn £7K less than him... for the same work'. Image by Nick Efford.
      Image: Nick Efford CC by-nd 2.0.

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