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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Emancipation of the English Woman *


Indian women are lucky as they have been given rights without any agitation or demand. I am referring to voting and property rights. I also agree that gender bias is rampant in India, but it was the same in England at the turn of the last century.The gender bias in English society was loosened and finally erased  by an agitation  by the women in England. Let me tell readers on Boddunan that it was a long arduous fight by the English women and Indian women must take heart from this battle.
The situation at the turn of the 20th century was one of a great economic divide in England. There were rich families who lived in palatial houses with a retinue of servants , while a large number of working class lived almost in ghetto like conditions. This was so despite the British having the resources of their colony India at their disposal. An excellent picture of England in the 19th century is portrayed by Charles Dickens in his novel " Hard Times".

At that time women were considered inferior to men in all respects and were expected to stay at home and cook food. They had no voting rights and could not own property as well and overall it was a bleak  outlook for women in England. But many enterprising women from the lower strata of society started an agitation for their rights .  This culminated in the famous incident of Emily Davison a women rights activist throwing herself before the kings horses at the famous Derby race course in June 1913. She had a placard screaming "voting rights for women". This incident greatly affected the ruling class in England. Her funeral on 14 June 1913 led to much soul searching.
Before any further  action could be taken war broke out in 1914 between the Allies led by England and the Central powers led by Germany.

This war in a way changed the perception of women. Conscription was introduced and all able bodied men were enrolled in the army to fight the war. As the men went for war against Germany, many vacancies in the factories and other places  became vacant. The KIng in consultation  with the cabinet took a momentous decision to incorporate women in the work force. In one stroke the position and status of women changed. Many women began to relish the chance of working outside home. Women were also incorporated in the farming work force and this was copied by the USA and Australia.
Women worked diligently and kept the British economy afloat.

 At the end of the war the government made major concessions and announced voting rights for women. However it was not universal suffrage and voting rights were given only to married women over the age of 30, whose husbands had some property. In one stroke 8 million women were given voting rights. The ball was now set rolling and those women who had worked during the war were not ready to go back to the kitchen.

The government a decade later gave full voting and other rights to English women. This was almost after a decade of the first order giving rights to women to vote above the age of 30. All along credit must go to the English women who fought hard for their rights. From a stage where they could not vote or own property, they became the equal of men. Indian women have not had to go through this hard time, but whatever lacuna is there has to be fought and gender bias removed. The women in India will have to come forward and fight for their rights.