By establishing a higher threshold for membership of this community, the law ultimately reinforced women’s status as second class citizens. Women would have to wait another ten years before achieving equal status with men, when parliament ratified the 1928 Equal Franchise Act.
A new focus, an old problem
The past century has seen the introduction of a number of legislative changes aimed at improving women’s position and standing in society, politics and the economy. It should not be assumed, however, that there have not been significant bumps in the road. Progress has been slow and continues to be rather uneven.
The end of World War II was a critical moment in the history of women’s participation in the political and economic life of the country. As a result of women’s contribution to the war effort, the public became more aware of women’s participation in the labour market. This helped to bolster the emergence of a transnational second wave feminist movement in the aftermath of the war.
Key demands of this movement were equal pay, equal treatment, maternity rights and reproductive rights. So in 100 years the debate has shifted to reflect women’s changing roles and expectations of society. From fighting for women’s right to vote, we now talk about women on boards and extending parental leave to serving members of parliament.
But while the focus of debates has changed, gender continues to be a structure of power that underpins both society and the economy. Women remain largely underrepresented in the British parliament and in other positions of power. Focusing simply on access – that is, legal equality – has achieved some change, but has not resulted in a more equal society. Arguably, this approach has failed to address how gender, as a structure of power, shapes every aspect of life.