Bridget Phillipson MP: We need to eliminate barriers that hold women and men back

Marion Phillips - Sunderland's first woman MP.
Marion Phillips - Sunderland's first woman MP.

This month sees the centenary of a major event in our country’s political history: the passing of the Representation of the People Act, which gave millions of men and women the right to vote.

For the first time, men over the age of 21 and some women over 30 could cast a vote.

Although it was to be another decade before women were given equal voting rights, around 8.5 million women could finally have a say in how our country was run.

It also paved the way for another landmark change, as women were soon able to run for Parliament.

A little over a decade later, in 1929, Sunderland elected Marion Phillips as its first female MP.

She dedicated her life to fighting for improved education, women’s rights and the eradication of poverty, and her impact on public and political life was far-reaching despite only serving as an MP for two years.

She oversaw the establishment of the first baby clinic in the UK, promoted regular health checks for school children, and campaigned for improved housing conditions across the country. Throughout her life, she also encouraged thousands of women to get involved in politics and make their voices heard.

Marion’s legacy is testimony to the importance of ensuring women are engaged in politics. However, while much has improved for women since 1918, there is clearly still more to be done.

Despite the record number of 208 female MPs elected at last year’s General Election, only 489 women have entered Parliament since 1918 – not even enough to fill the House of Commons chamber.

In recent weeks especially, the numerous accounts of sexual abuse and harassment remind us that we must tackle the unacceptable treatment too many women still experience.

As we celebrate this centenary, we should pay tribute to the work of Marion Phillips and countless others, who did so much to ensure women can take part in our democracy while millions across the world fight daily for such basic rights.

We should also honour their efforts by looking afresh at how we can eliminate the barriers that hold both women and men back, whether in politics or business, at home or in the workplace, and how we make sure that the tales of abuse and harassment become a thing of the past.