On 14th December 1918, women over the age of 30 who met property or education requirements could vote for the first time in a general election, and we marked this centenary with an exhibition and two events at County Hall in Exeter.
The exhibition on Suffrage and Democracy, which ran from 3rd December to 14th December, included a timeline of women County Councillors and MPs, The Candidates photography exhibition of Devon women who stood for election in 2017, information about the 1918 vote, Dreadnought SW Rebellious Sounds Archive Listening Booth, discussion boards, a suffrage board game, and a polling station to vote on a current issue (votes for 16 year olds).
The Suffrage Flag flew from the Bellair flag pole.
If you were around County Hall on Friday 14th December you may have been greeted on arrival by Suffragette Sue who chained herself to the railings at the Coaver Club and caused disruption throughout the day!
Wearing Votes for Women sashes and rosettes, a team of DCC Apprentices provided help with stewarding at both events and the exhibition.
(photo by @DCCApprentices)
The day involved a series of ‘sofa interviews’ with a fantastic selection of women from Devon and beyond exploring how to empower women who work in the public sector, representation of women in politics and the history of our pioneering female politicians.
With BBC radio’s Jo Loosemore at the helm, the guests on the sofas were Chief Inspector Jane Alford-Mole – Devon and Cornwall Police, Meg Booth – Devon County Council, Emma-Rose Herrera, Environment Agency, Bindu Arjoon – Exeter City Council, Fiona Mactaggart – Fawcett Society, Clarissa Brown – 50:50 Parliament, Marie Chadwick – The Parliament Project, and historians Dr Julia Neville and Lisa Berry-Waite.
(photos by @SarahJGov @50:50Parliament and @LisaBerryWaite)
The event opened and closed with songs on the themes of women’s suffrage, feminism and women’s history, including a song about Devon County Council’s first woman Councillor, Juanita Maxwell Phillips, performed by Wren Music Her Story Women’s Choir [lyrics] [MP3 Live Recording].
Delegates were also treated to a unique performance by Natalie McGrath from Dreadnought SW which drew on quotes from two plays about women’s suffrage and great quotes from women of the day.
Running simultaneously in the Council Chamber, was a Youth Takeover. Young people were given the opportunity to debate on topics of their choosing. Students from Exeter Royal Academy of Deaf Education debated issues around subtitles and sign language on television, and students from Tavistock College debated abortion law, gender pay gap and gender pronouns.
Both schools were also given a welcome and introduction to democracy and how the County Council works from our Democratic Services team, as well as an opportunity to look at the exhibition and take part in the poll and discussion boards.
(photo by @CllrDebo)
The Youth Takeover was webcast, and the Women in Public Service event was filmed on Facebook Live via Devon County Council’s page.
Youth Takeover (webcast): https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/364811
Facebook Live, Women in Public Service:
Opening, Choir and Empowering Women in Public Service discussion:
Performance by Natalie McGrath:
Discussion on Representation of Women in Politics:
(some of this discussion is missing due to a technical problem)
Discussion about the first women MPs and Councillors, and finale from the Choir including a song about Devon County Council’s first woman Councillor (also catch Suffragette Sue at the start!):
(Hint: use headphones for improved sound quality).
As part of the exhibition we asked people whether the age at which people should be allowed to vote in England and Wales should be lowered to 16. The results were:
Yes – 48%
A Twitter poll, which ran for three days by @dccequality, came up with a similar result:
Yes – 47%
No – 53%
What would encourage people to stand for election or get involved by influencing decision making?
- Not being told that because we are young and “immature” we shouldn’t vote or care.
- Being encouraged to, and taught about the election process better.
- Better education of how democracy works and better education about how government at all levels works.
Should there be an equal number of men and women represented in national and local government?
- Should be on merit not gender.
- If you are voted in then do it, it shouldn’t be forced to be 50/50.
- No, your qualification should be based on skill, rather than your gender.
- Gender has moved on since (male symbol) and (female symbol).
- We shouldn’t be aiming for 100% parity, but all barriers to participation should be removed.
- No, politicians should be voted in because they are good politicians and have been voted for.
- No, elect people who are competent at their job, rather based on race or gender.
- The reason why there is not a 50/50 split in parliament is that women are not choosing to enter politics. If I’m wrong and they are indeed being discriminated against I’d advise they take it to court and sight the 2010 Equality Act.
- Ideally, yes; diversity brings strength. But I prefer positive action rather than positive discrimination.
- It’s not 50/50 because you are voted in because of your party, not your gender, race or age. Well it shouldn’t be based on those things.
Should the age at which people are allowed to vote in England and Wales be lowered to 16?
- Yes, I think that 16 year olds should be allowed to vote because issues (like Brexit) will impact them in the future far more than an elderly person will be affected. Just because you aren’t fully developed doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion on something so important.
- No, people that young may not be responsible enough to vote. You aren’t able to drive so why can you decide about our country’s future?
- No! Because the majority of 16 year olds are immature and are easily influenced/peer pressured by their friends.
- I think the voting age should be lowered to 16! Young people should have the ability to vote for the world they want to live in. We should be taught more about this in schools.
- If young people are employed and contributing to society – yes votes@16.
- Yes I do think so – would make a large impact on electoral results.
- No, because I think people are still maturing. So 18 is definitely the right age.
- FYI I am 16. The voting age should be raised to 21. A person at that age has limited knowledge and experience. They are also in the middle of biological changes and so their brain is still developing.
- Yes! Schools should put politics into the national curriculum so that young people can learn what is happening.
- I am 14 and I don’t think voting should be lowered to 16 as I feel some 16 year olds don’t really understand what they are voting for. I think they deserve to be taught about it and voice their opinions but not in such a crucial way.
- No, many 16 year olds do not understand what they are voting for.
- Yes! Schools should do more to enable young people to have a voice and understand how democracy works.
- Yes – No taxation without representation!
- No, people who are 16 do not understand the severity of political parties and could treat it like a joke. It should be raised so that informed votes are submitted.
- Yes! If mental faulty is impaired then some very old people shouldn’t.
- I don’t think the voting age should be lowered to 16 because young people aren’t taught enough about democracy so wouldn’t have a valid vote.
- Yes! Young people are our future!
- Yes – young people should have the vote at 16 – they have the greatest stake in the future and can make democracy vibrant.
- I am 13 however we all have our own opinions and because of this we should get to vote because we are the future Prime Ministers and Councillors of this country so we should be able to vote.
- If we use ‘easily influenced’ or ‘lack of knowledge’ as an argument not to allow 16 year olds to vote, then perhaps we should use this for the whole population? Just look at how people didn’t know what they were voting for with Brexit! Educate people with the truth and then you get good democracy.
What would encourage more people to use their hard won vote?
- Voting for a stable party e.g. conservative.
- A legal requirement to vote and an option on the ballot paper not to vote.
- Allowing fairer representation of political parties and challenging binary Tory v Labour.
- Having political parties worth voting for.
- I think that politics should be a core subject to help people – the future -understand about politics. I think we should be able to vote at the age of sixteen, but if you then don’t want to/don’t understand then don’t vote. You don’t have to.
- Greater trust, transparency and accountability.
- Politics being taught in schools as a core subject.
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