Inspired by the suffragettes and suffragists, in 2018 the Centenary Action Group established itself as one of the UK’s largest coalitions of women’s rights activists and organisations. We brought together over 100 activists, politicians and women’s rights organisations from across the UK and gained support from all of the major UK political parties.
We believe it is crucial that our politics reflects the diversity of the people it seeks to represent. Just over one hundred years since the first women in the UK got the vote, only 34% of MPs are women. Disabled women and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women are chronically underrepresented.
Centenary Action Group advocates for the development, improvement and implementation of laws and policies that reduce or remove the barriers to women’s political participation, including:
The violence, harassment and abuse that politically active women face on and offline;
The economic inequalities that prevent women from engaging in politics and decision-making;
The culture and practices within politics that deter and exclude women.
Globally, women make up less than one quarter of legislators and almost half of these women have received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children. In the UK, 89 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men say that sexism still exists in Parliament and four in 10 women councillors have experienced sexist comments from within their own party. Women must be able to take part in the decisions that affect their lives free from violence and harassment.
Together the Centenary Action Group has called on the UK government to deliver real change for women’s lives in the UK and around the world. Specifically:
To implement Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, requiring political parties to publish their candidate diversity data, and create positive pressure for change;
To end harassment in the workplace through introducing a mandatory preventative duty on employers, reinstating third party harassment laws, and championing a progressive ILO Convention at the global level;
To end online abuse and harassment through committing 1% of the new digital services tax to ending online abuse.
Throughout 2018 thousands of people from across the country spoke out to call for action on these issues. In February alone, we reached over 9 million people to ask why they were #StillMarching for gender equality
In March 2018, 10,000 people called for global gender equality and an end to harassment and violence at work at the huge #March4Women event in Trafalgar Square. In June 2018, we again took to the streets and galvanised tens of thousands of women and women’s organisations from across the four nations to take part in Processions and remember the work of the suffragettes and suffragists to get women’s right to vote and a greater say in the political decisions that affect women’s lives.
In November, women outnumbered men at Westminster on #AskHerToStandDay when over 300 women were invited by MPs to consider standing for election. As a result, over 100 have signed up to stand with 50:50 Parliament. Great initiatives such as #AskHerToStand have shown that there are fantastic women out there who are willing to step up to the plate, but there are numerous structural obstacles in the way of women who do put their names forward. That’s why over 30 MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cyrmu and the Greens have supported our #Enact106 campaign, which has received over 500 pieces of media coverage including the BBC, ITN and Grazia.
In March 2019, dozens gathered in Westminster for our #ThisIsNotWorking Day of Action against workplace harassment and violence. Women lobbied 72 MPs to reinstate third-party harassment laws, introduce a legal duty on employers to prevent harassment, and a strong and inclusive ILO convention to end workplace violence. Over two dozen MPs and celebrities publicly pledged their commitment to ending workplace violence and harassment.
In June 2019, a key #ThisIsNotWorking milestone was reached: the ILO adopted a Convention on Ending Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. Campaigns like ours were essential in persuading employers, unions, and states to adopt a convention which covered all areas of work. However, our work is not finished because the Convention is not yet in effect. We urge the UK government to take the lead in ending workplace violence and harassment by ratifying the Convention and encouraging others to do the same.
We are proud of what we achieved in a difficult political climate. The barriers that women in politics face are more visible than ever and thousands have taken action and called on the government to deliver on the legacy of the suffragettes and suffragists. It is clear that the government must do more, and it is frustrating that it did not deliver on our asks in 2018. It is testimony to the fact that work is still needed to build on the awareness that we have created. We stand ready to be a partner to government to truly deliver on the suffragette and suffragist legacy, but we cannot wait 10 years to see equal representation. Particularly in these turbulent times, we must have action that ensures women have the right to take part in the decisions that affect their lives; that their voices are heard; and that they can do so without fear of violence, abuse and harassment.
The Centenary Action Group are uniquely placed to bring together the women’s right sector across political divides and demonstrate the power of sisterhood. We are committed to making audible and visible women’s diverse experiences of patriarchy and to creating the conditions in which marginalised women feel able have their voices heard and respected. We are #StillMarching.