Women’s Right to Vote
Prejudice comes in innumerable shapes and sizes. That historically women, who comprise roughly half the population, weren’t allowed voting rights is a perfect example of gender discrimination.
From the days of the great Athenian democracy to the 20th century, the rationale for restricting voting rights to men was linked to property ownership.
When in 1918 women in the United Kingdom were given the Vote, it was limited to those 30 years and older who owned property or had a university degree. Full suffrage equal to men would only occur in 1928. It would then take until 1958 before women could sit in the House of Lords.
Judaism on this count did slightly better – three and a half millennia ago, Miriam was a prophetess and national leader, and the Torah granted the Daughters of Zelophehad their father’s land inheritance. In the 12th century BCE, Deborah sat as the leading Judge of her generation, and 2500 years ago Judaism instituted the Ketubah (marriage contract) to protect women’s financial interests.
The award-winning film Suffragette portrayed the difficult battle to win the Vote. But, contrary to expectation, some women opposed this militant movement. Its leaders were arrested, imprisoned, physically and mentally tortured and at least one died.
Prejudice is unbecoming the nobility of the human spirit. Yet, there are those who will always feel the status quo shouldn’t be disturbed.
In facing bias and ignorance, we must ask ‘are we content to sit on the side lines or are we willing to voice our dissent?’ It won’t be comfortable, but the result often leads to improvements for those most in need.
One hundred years on, the United Kingdom has had 2 female prime ministers, and in the 2017 General Election, women made up an equal percent of the voting public. Yet there’s still a great distance to be covered. Of 826 peers in the House of Lords, only 199 are women, and of 650 members of the House of Commons, 191 are women.
With voting rights normalised, how long until women achieve pay equality?
Rabbi Jeff Berger serves the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree/ Borehamwood and can be contacted at RabbiJeffLondon@gmail.com.