This photo was taken in 2014 at a march held to commemorate a suffragette rally that took place in Walthamstow, east London, in 1910.
This is my mother, my daughter and me, three generations marching together for equality and to honour the women (and men) who fought for the vote for all. So as the week commemorating the Representation of the People Act draws to a close, what does the vote mean to us?
If one of my friends said to me that she wasn’t going to vote, I’d tell her about the suffragettes. They stood up for women, because women aren’t feeble – they were doing all the cleaning and hard work – and they deserved the vote. I don’t think many people know that lots of suffragettes suffered and were tortured. They were put in prison and had tubes forced down their throats. I think we need to say thank you to them for persisting.
I would like to be able to vote about things that are important to me. For example I think we should be able to elect our Prime Minister, and vote when things affect our future. Perhaps our teachers could decide whether we are serious enough to vote. I remember when my parents took me to the polling booth on election day, it is a very solemn and important occasion.
I stood for election in my class and you have to be strong to do it. Lots of people can pull you down and jeer at you. I admire my local MP. She stands up for what is right (and she also likes Star Wars). The suffragettes knew that we all have human rights, and that’s why all people need to be able to vote.
Three particular votes stand out for me.
First was when my parents took me to vote when I was about five. The excitement of a family outing, the polling booth and making a cross with the stubby pencil remain with me – but also that voting was so normal that even a five year old could get involved. I don’t think I’ve missed voting since, and I always take my children with me.
Then in my early twenties I remember the first fully democratic vote in South Africa. Photos of queues for polling stations snaking round and round, with people waiting for hours to exercise their democratic rights. Desmond Tutu dancing for joy at the liberation represented by the vote.
And then the Brexit referendum vote, a vote which brought out some of the worst in our society rather than the best: suspicion, division, claim and counter-claim. A campaign which, however you voted, left so much unfinished business.
So for me voting has been about participation, liberation…and the awesome responsibility and consequences of having the vote.
I grew up in a Derbyshire village where my family always voted faithfully in General and Local Elections: and I have done so ever since. I think the sky would fall in if I didn’t vote. The only time I missed voting was when I was out of the country on holiday – since then thankfully postal voting has been introduced.
For years I was not able to vote for a woman MP as there were none on the candidates lists. I was delighted when more and more women stood, and women MPs were elected in the constituencies in which I lived at the time. Thanks to this development, and to the election of two women Prime Ministers, my grand-daughters can say something my grandmothers could never have dreamt of: ‘I want to be Prime Minister one day!’
We have come a long way. It has been good to live through measures that have increased women’s equality and involvement in politics and public life. I hope we will never forget what has been done – nor what still lies ahead.