Campaigning becomes more militant
In opposition to the continuing and repeated imprisonment of many of their members, the WSPU introduced the prison hunger strike to Britain, and the authorities' policy of force feeding won the suffragettes great sympathy from the public. The Government later passed the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913, commonly referred to as the Cat and Mouse Act, which allowed the release of suffragettes when near to death due to malnourishment, but officers could re-imprison them once healthy. This was an attempt to avoid force feeding.
A new suffrage bill was introduced in 1910, but growing impatient, the WSPU launched a heightened campaign of protest in 1912 on the basis of targeting property and avoiding violence against any person. Initially this involved smashing shop windows, but ultimately escalated to burning stately homes and bombing public buildings including Westminster Abbey. It also famously led to the death of Emily Davison as she was trampled by the King's horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby in 1913.
Included in the many militant acts performed were the burning of churches, restaurants and railway carriages, smashing government windows weekly, cutting telephone lines, spitting at police and politicians, partial destruction of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George's home, cutting and burning pro-suffrage slogans into stadium turf, sending letter bombs, destroying greenhouses at Kew gardens, chaining themselves to railings and blowing up houses. A doctor was attacked with a rhino whip and in one case suffragettes rushed the House of Commons. On March 10, 1914 suffragette Mary Richardson (known as one of the most militant activists, also called "Slasher" Richardson) walked into the National Gallery and attacked Diego Velázquez's Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver. In 1913, suffragette militancy caused £54,000 worth of damage, £36,000 of which occurred in April alone.
The organisation also suffered some splits. The editors of Votes for Women, Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, were expelled in 1912, causing the WSPU to launch a new journal, The Suffragette, edited by Christabel Pankhurst. The East London Federation of mostly working class women and led by Sylvia Pankhurst was expelled in 1914.
WSPU during World War I
On the outbreak of war, Christabel Pankhurst was living in Paris, in order to run the organisation without fear of arrest. Her autocratic control enabled her, over the objections of Kitty Marion and others, to declare on the outbreak of World War I that the WSPU should abandon its campaigns in favour of a nationalistic stance supporting the British government in the war. The WSPU stopped publishing The Suffragette, and in April 1915 it launched a new journal, Britannia. While the majority of WSPU members supported the war, a small number formed the Suffragettes of the Women's Social Political Union (SWSPU) and the Independent Women's Social and Political Union (IWSPU). The WSPU faded from public attention, and was dissolved in 1917, with Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst founding the Women's Party.
Women’s rights around the world is an important indicator to understand global well-being.
A major global women’s rights treaty was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.
Yet, despite many successes in empowering women, numerous issues still exist in all areas of life, ranging from the cultural, political to the economic. For example, women often work more than men, yet are paid less; gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime; and women and girls are often are the ones that suffer the most poverty.
Many may think that women’s rights are only an issue in countries where religion is law, such as many Muslim countries. Or even worse, some may think this is no longer an issue at all. But reading this report about the United Nation’s Women’s Treaty and how an increasing number of countries are lodging reservations, will show otherwise.
Gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development for all of society, so the importance of women’s rights and gender equality should not be underestimated.
1.Anika Rahman, Laura Katzive and Stanley K. Henshaw. A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985–1997, International Family Planning Perspectives (Volume 24, Number 2, June 1998).
2.Encyclopedia of religion, second edition, Lindsay Jones
3.Hosken, Fran P., 'Towards a Definition of Women's Rights' in Human Rights Quarterly
4.John Mercer, "Shopping for Suffrage: The Campaign Shops of the Women's Social and Political Union", Women's History Review, 2009
5.Mishra, R. C. (2006). Towards Gender Equality
"Universal Declaration of Human Rights"
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