NI Women and the Vote: 100 years on…

by Roseann Kelly, Women in Business Northern Ireland

Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’ Neill – the first five party leaders in Northern Ireland and across the UK who came to mind as I contemplated female suffrage in the United Kingdom in this, its centenary year.

The list can, of course continue; Ruth Davidson, Caroline Lucas and Mary Lou McDonald but to name three more in an ever-extending index. Women in Business is at the forefront of supporting the professional development of women across Northern Ireland through our business networks and it is remarkable when we compare the atmosphere and conditions in which women fought, sometimes with their lives, to have what we now consider mundane and even banal at times.

Though a modest concession at the time, equality and parity of esteem for women in the political sphere should never be taken for granted and it is important to recognise the impact that these incredible women have had on each successive generation of women who have followed.

Speaking on the progress made within the field of science and his contribution to it Isaac Newton remarked, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Newton had the humility to recognise that without the foundational progress made by others – further development such as his own in mathematics, physics and astronomy would not have been possible.

Here at Women in Business we facilitate women’s positive contributions to society and as we contemplate current strides being made to increase female participation, representation and power in politics we look back with extreme pride in the women willing not only to create discomfort and unease in society during a time of war but to suffer imprisonment, injury and death.

The right to vote is intrinsically linked with the ability to shape and project power in a democratic society.

It is for this reason that the right to do so has throughout history been rescinded; denied or unincentivized not only for women but other marginalised groups and it was within this hostile environment that the Suffragettes of the early 20th century fought.

The right to vote gives a voice to communities and their leaders and it is important to acknowledge the impact that this has had on society here in the last 100 years. As a business network with some of Northern Ireland’s most inspirational, entrepreneurial and visionary women we can see first-hand the momentous change that has taken place over the past number of years.

It is our duty to embrace the power of women and reflect on this journey that we have been on, to continue to build on what has been set out before us and support women as they strive to reach their full potential.

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