Gina Davidson: Age-old battle, modern issues

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THERE is a moment in the new film Suffragette which had me in tears. No spoilers here, but it dealt with the personal fallout which can arise from becoming politically motivated.

In this instance, it was the impact on a mother who was marching for the right to vote, and I sat in the Dominion watching and wondering if I’d have had the determination to carry on regardless in the fight for a cause. I’m not sure I would.

This is not a review of the film but you should see it if you can – and take your children too (it’s a PG). It’s not a great movie – though Carey Mulligan and Anne-Marie Duff are great in it – but it’s an important one.

It’s not often films are made about working-class women and their causes – Made in Dagenham and Erin Brockovich are the only two which immediately spring to mind – and this one took ten years to get together; perhaps proving how difficult it can be to convince the mostly male-run production companies and the “money men” that there is a market for such material.

It’s hard to comprehend in 2015 – especially looking at Scottish politics – that it was only 87 years ago that all women in Britain aged 21 and over were finally considered worthy of having a political opinion; were able to mark their X in a polling booth to exercise their right to vote for a government (my gran is 97, to put that into perspective).

It’s hard to comprehend in 2015 that back when this film is set, 1912, that married working-class women had no personal property – all their things, including wages, were regarded as their husband’s. And they had no parental rights either, mainly because they had no access to the law.

It’s hard too to comprehend in this enlightened era of the “new man” that men back then just didn’t see any of that as a problem, for women or themselves or society as a whole.

Of course things are better for women now. Rape in marriage is recognised as a crime. Domestic violence has become an issue which the police will tackle, rather than turn a blind eye. Children cannot be taken from their mothers with no legal recourse. Women can divorce their husbands and keep their own property. They can vote, stand for parliament and even be prime minister, just as Henry Asquith feared. Some are even Conservatives, as many Labour men worried.

But that doesn’t mean that the struggle in which the suffragettes were engaged is over.

We may have a female First Minister in Nicola Sturgeon and leading politicians Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson, Alison Johnstone and many others who are blazing a trail in modern political parties, but political equality and equal rights with men are still far from a reality.

Women are still paid around 20 per cent less than men. Stereotypes about women’s work still exist – 78 per cent of those in caring sector (traditionally low paid jobs) are female; 88 per cent of those in science, engineering and technology are men. Political parties feel forced to use quotas to ensure more women stand for election (in Holyrood, the gender ratio has begun to fall from a high of 39 per cent to 34 per cent); there’s a campaign to make sure public sector boards are 50:50.

Then there’s the ongoing problem of violence against women by men which results in the deaths of two women every week in the UK; female genital mutilation; honour killings 
. . . and let’s not forget the more everyday sexism, much of which comes from the media which likes to pigeonhole people, so women are mothers, wives, daughters, attractive or ugly, charming or harridan.

So, there’s much to still get angry about. There are many reasons why using the vote which was so hard-won is essential, why all women should exercise their right of suffrage. There are many reasons why men in positions of power should choose to work towards equality.

In the film, the militant suffragettes are domestic terrorists, blowing things up and smashing windows. That physical fight has thankfully given way to more peaceable protest, and social media has been a boost to many current issues.

As Carey Mulligan’s character says of her total belief that women will win, will be equal, it is simple maths: “We’re in every home, we’re half the human race, you can’t stop us all.”

Ongoing support for Jak’s legacy

JAK Trueman’s funeral was an incredibly emotional event.

I never knew the teenager who died from blood cancer (tragically just ten days after his diagnosis) but the tributes paid to him that day by family and friends, the numbers at the church – so many they filled the pews, the graveyard, the street outside – showed how much he was loved.

It’s no surprise then that the charity set up by his mum in his name is winning support too. West Lothian politicians Angela Constance MSP and Hannah Bardell MP have just completed a marathon to raise funds for the Team Jak Foundation. I hope they received cross-party sponsorship.

Hopefully Unesco will talk sense

IT would be a terrible shame if Edinburgh lost its much vaunted, much valued, Unesco World Heritage Site status. Not that I think it would deter tourists, it’s not as if the Old Town and New Town would vanish overnight without the branding, but the protection it gives them is not to be dismissed lightly.

There seems to be a demand for big, five-star hotels – though I’m never quite sure where that demand comes from. But if there is it surely doesn’t have to follow they must either be built cheek by jowl with magnificent old buildings or squeezed into spaces so tight they end up elongated and potentially ruinous of the city skyline.

The Unesco inspectors are in town. Let’s hope they can point this out to those who fail to see the long-term impact such developments can have on the city’s reputation. They might also have a word about the roads.

You bet Jane’s a lucky girl

SOME girls have all the luck. Niddrie’s Jane Park became a millionaire after winning the Lottery and now a £20 bet has landed her a £7000 prize. I think I need to shake her hand to see if some of that luck rubs off.