THE most prominent Church-women in parliament are encouraging the next generation of voters “not to stay silent” about injustices in society, in a new resource-pack designed to help church schools and youth groups to mark 100 years of suffrage.
As part of the Vote100 celebrations during UK Parliament Week (12 to 18 November), the Houses of Parliament, in partnership with the Church of England, have published a booklet summarising the workings of parliament, democracy, and the history behind the Representation of the People Act 1918, which paved the way for women to vote in a General Election.
The booklet explains how the Church and prominent Christians were involved in the suffragette movement, and how they contribute to parliament today, including prayers before sessions and why bishops sit in the Lords. It also gives a short history of women and the Church.
In her contribution, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, pays tribute to two 20th-century reformers in her diocese, Emily Wilding Davison and Josephine Butler. “It was their commitment, with others, not to stay silent about this that enabled the voices of women to be heard and, ultimately, the law to be changed,” she writes.
“They had helped, in a very significant way, to make my life so different to how it might have been. I was reminded of this when I took my seat in the House of Lords as a Lord Spiritual. . . On that day, I also reflected on the responsibility I have as a Christian not to stay silent about the injustices in our society.”
Church of England Communications OfficeSeven women bishops
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, writes that it had never been her intention to sit as the first female Lords Spiritual in 2015, but that, “with the calling to be a Bishop and a Lords Spiritual has come the responsibility and opportunity to speak out on a variety of issues and topics, in an endeavour to enable other people to . . . become the people God has created them to be.”
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, reflects on Florence Nightingale: “Florence Nightingale, who died in 1910, could not vote, let alone sit in Parliament, so she used her influential male friends to bring about change. Because of the actions of courageous women 100 years ago, I am able not just to vote but to speak up on behalf of others in the House of Lords.”
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, writes that women still have much to fight for: achieving equal pay, tackling sexual exploitation, and “even something as basic” as getting mothers’ names on marriage certificates (Comment, 2 March).
“I’m also shocked by the number of times I knock on doors to be greeted by a female voter who says she cannot see the point of voting! It leads me to the view that we need to teach political history to everyone in school.
“This centenary ultimately reminds me of the need to keep up the fight for equality and educate the next generation in what has gone before us. It’s hard being a woman in politics, but my faith is a key source of strength in a difficult job. It provides a baseline against which to judge right and wrong.”
The Chaplain to the Speaker of the Commons, Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said that she was inspired daily by Wilding Davison, who, the night before the 1911 census, hid in a broomcupboard in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft so that she could claim the Palace of Westminster as her place of residence.
“The Suffragettes did not follow the path that society had laid out for these women. They were prepared to forge new paths for the role of women in society.”
The booklet also contains activities for children, such as holding mock parliamentary debates, campaigns, feasting, prayers, and a quiz. It can be downloaded from the Vote100 website, along with a ballot box for children to hold mock elections, a “Votes for Women” sash, and a UK Parliament Week placard, bunting, and posters to promote events.