Votes for women: ‘deeds not words’

Over 100 years ago, suffragette Theresa Garnett entered a busy railway station and pushed her way towards then cabinet minister Winston Churchill. She reached him through the crowds and began whipping him, shouting: ‘Take that in the name of the insulted women of England’. Other suffragettes meanwhile were protesting, smashing windows and starting fires, following the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) call for ‘deeds not words’. 100 years ago this year, following a long and militant campaign led by the WSPU, some women in Britain were given the right to vote for the first time. This was an important step forward for women. Rachel Francis reports.


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50 years since the Abortion Act - Still no choice for working class women

On 27 October 2017 it will be 50 years since the Abortion Act became law. The many events and press coverage marking the anniversary generally agree that while the Act was a hugely important step forward for women in Britain, it is not fit for purpose. However, legislation is far from the only reason getting an abortion is still a problem for women. Conditions for the working class – the devastating attacks on services, living standards and benefits which hit women hardest, the increasing isolation and responsibility for childrearing with little support – is missing from these discussions. We must be clear that these cannot be separated, and that abortion is not a question of choice for the working class.


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The DUP and the fight for abortion rights in the north of Ireland

abortion right

UPDATE: In June 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling of May 2014, detailed below, which denies women from the north of Ireland provision of an abortion free of charge by the NHS in England. The judges rejected the appeal with a three to two majority, with those dismissing the case reporting their ‘respect to the democratic decision of the people of Northern Ireland' and arguing that accepting the appeal would increase ‘health tourism’ and ‘a near collapse of the edifice of devolved health services’.

Encouraged by the decision of the two judges who recognised their appeal however, the women are planning to file an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ‘to protect the human rights of the many other women who make the lonely journey to England every week because they are denied access to basic healthcare services in their own country'.


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Newcastle: No to cuts to domestic violence services!


In 2014, Newcastle council began an 18-month procurement process, putting out key domestic violence services out to tender. In May 2016, it announced that the contract had been awarded to Thirteen Care and Support, a not-for-profit charitable subsidiary of Thirteen Group, the biggest group of housing associations in the region. Whilst much has been made of the council's £1.6m capital investment for new domestic violence accommodation in partnership with Thirteen Care, the existing refuge provided by Newcastle Women's Aid faces imminent closure.

Thirteen Care and Support was only founded two years ago, whereas Newcastle Women's Aid (NWA) has 40 years of expertise and experience in supporting victims of domestic violence, and their refuge employs some of the most specialised staff in the country. NWA is a specialist local service run by women, for women and their children. In 2014 the NWA refuge was awarded a stage one Women's Aid Federation England national quality standards award, recognising this specialisation. In contrast Thirteen Care is currently advertising jobs which don’t require previous experience in domestic violence services, including a full-time apprentice who will be paid a measly £6,366 a year for a 37-hour week. Specialist domestic violence workers are being replaced with 'independent living workers', support for working women not eligible for housing benefit is set to be cut, and no proper transfer plan for women using the current refuge has been made available. Further details on the transition are murky, however one thing is crystal clear, despite the council's spin and a shiny new building, the new contract will result in a loss of specialisation for domestic violence services.


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Suffragette: The struggle for women’s rights

• Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron, 2015, 106 mins

Working-class women resisting insufferable working conditions and stifling home lives is a welcome sight on the big-screen. Suffragette offers us glimpses of this in powerful and moving scenes. However, the film ultimately seeks to gloss over the very questions this focus begins to raise. Infuriating, yes – but it is difficult not to be inspired by the will of women who must and do resist, by any means necessary.

‘I can’t take that any more’

The film’s focus on Maud, a fictionalised laundry worker, promises a welcome departure from the usual starched dresses and purple and green sashes associated with the Suffragettes. Instead, we see the appalling conditions of the laundry – the back-breaking, dangerous work that women perform for longer hours and less pay than male workers. They return home to cramped, damp, one-up-one-down housing to face housework, cooking and caring for the children. There is little in the way of support, family planning and childcare. We see women’s lack of legal rights over the care of their children. Sexual violence is commonplace. The solidarity and opposition that grows and strengthens throughout the film is a much-needed example of the necessary resistance beyond the ballot box.


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