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Thursday, 3 July 2008


Last night I laid the wreath at a ceremony in Westminster Abbey for Dame Millicent Fawcett to commemorate her constant and courageous work in securing citizenship rights for women in the Equal Franchise Act passed on 2 July 1928.

I felt honored to be chosen for this important task. And whilst giving a quick speech to the mixed crowd of people of all ages and both sexes, I felt a sense of the feminist issues I have been working on most recently coming together.

Commemorating this landmark achievement for women, just a few days after the newest Equality Bill was launched by Harriet Harman with a female Minister, who asked for our thoughts as the fate of women bishops is decided this weekend (see my letter published in the Times 2 July), was a vivid reminder of how controversial equality remains.

As the article 'Now, the backlash' the Guardian showed this week, rapes are up to an unprecedented high (the tally of recorded rapes rose from 247% from 1991 to 2004), whilst conviction rates are plummeting and are now lower than the 70s. A new lap dancing club opens up in England every week, the 24-week abortion limit is under threat, and a leading businessman on The Dragons' Den says pregnant women's brains 'turn to mush'.

Eighty years on from when women achieved equal voting rights to men, there is evidently still a very long way to go before women can enjoy the same political, economic and social freedoms as men.

Perhaps as director of the Fawcett Society Katherine Rake asked us to remember, in her article for the NewStatesman this week, we should all take closer heed of Millicent Fawcett's wise words:

"Men cannot be truly free so long as women are held in public subjugation."

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