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Still work to be done to tackle the issues that women care about the most

PUBLISHED: 10:41 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:45 05 February 2018

Bury St Edmunds Fawcett Society is now focusing on the whole electorate and aiming to get the town talking about politics and the election and using their vote. Left to right, Mai Mai Lam, Faith Stables, Charlotte Kirin, Eleanor Rehahn.

Bury St Edmunds Fawcett Society is now focusing on the whole electorate and aiming to get the town talking about politics and the election and using their vote. Left to right, Mai Mai Lam, Faith Stables, Charlotte Kirin, Eleanor Rehahn.

More than 2,000 women took part in a special survey looking at issues such as the gender pay gap, childcare, families, loneliness, the hard things to face in life, and what is best about being a woman in the 21st century.

Ipswich Women’s Festival Group member Joy Bounds giving a speech at the launch of four blue plaques for Ipswich women.Ipswich Women’s Festival Group member Joy Bounds giving a speech at the launch of four blue plaques for Ipswich women.

Tomorrow is the centenary of women getting the vote for the first time following a long – and sometimes violent – campaign to win the right to stand alongside their husbands, fathers and brothers at the ballot box.

A total of 56.4% of respondents to our survey said they always vote.

However, the results showed the younger you are, the less likely you are to vote.

Ipswich borough councillor and women’s officer, Shelly Darwin said: “This is why there is still so much work to do.

Shelly Darwin with son, Riaz, at the Ipswich Protest against Donald Trumps Muslim ban near the Giles Statue, Ipswich. Picture: NIGE BROWNShelly Darwin with son, Riaz, at the Ipswich Protest against Donald Trumps Muslim ban near the Giles Statue, Ipswich. Picture: NIGE BROWN

“It’s about representation. Politics has to be engaging, and for that to happen, you need to see people like you within the system.”

Eleanor Rehahn, coordinator of Fawcett Society Suffolk, agreed: “The legacy of the suffragettes, I think, means that the single most important piece of work we have to do now is to get 16-year-olds the right to vote.

“The survey may show younger people are less likely to vote and that is because we aren’t talking to or about young people until way too late. I teach sixth form and I can tell you, my students are often desperate to vote.”

Younger people were also much more likely to say they had experienced the gender pay gap and harassment and discrimination at work – this doesn’t have to indicate that these issues are getting worse, however, as Nikki Packham, chairwoman of the Women’s Equality Party Suffolk explained.

The panellists for the Fawcett Society debate in Bury St Edmunds on February 5 with organiser Eleanor Rehahn. Left to right: Franstine Jones, Eleanor Rehahn, Sarah Stamp, Julia Wakelam, Anne Gower and Jane Basham.The panellists for the Fawcett Society debate in Bury St Edmunds on February 5 with organiser Eleanor Rehahn. Left to right: Franstine Jones, Eleanor Rehahn, Sarah Stamp, Julia Wakelam, Anne Gower and Jane Basham.

She said: “Constant campaigning on women’s issues is why younger people are more inclined to say they have experienced these things, because there is more awareness.

“The gender pay gap in Suffolk is above the national average (18.4%) – women here earn 21% less an hour than men, so it is very pronounced.

“If we stay at the current rate of progress, it will take 62 years to reach parity, and we just cannot allow that to happen. We see lots of women working shorter hours or taking lower paid positions purely because they can’t get childcare.”

Almost 40% of women who took the survey said they experience loneliness in some way.

Local election results. Ipswich 
Shelly Darwin and Neil Macdonald of Labour St John's wardLocal election results. Ipswich Shelly Darwin and Neil Macdonald of Labour St John's ward

Shelly said: “There are so many magical and wonderful things about motherhood but it can also be a very isolating experience and that is something that women are sometimes afraid of communicating.

“There’s a lot of pressure as a new mum, to enjoy every moment and not to admit they find it tough or lonely. I am a single mum and it is definitely something that I identify with.

“In Ipswich, we set up the ‘More than Mum’ initiative to help combat this.

“It works with mothers to build their confidence.

“We look at rediscovering skills – it’s not that you lose skills when you become a mother, but you almost forget you have them and what your worth is when your life is just about caring for another person.”

More than 60% of those who answered the survey said tiredness was the hardest thing they had to face in life.

Almost 20% found juggling childcare and work a struggle, while 15.9% felt unfulfilled in their careers.

But almost four in 10 respondents to our survey said freedom of choice was the best thing about being a woman in 2017. This was closely followed by opportunities and motherhood – with marriage, work and social media also on the list.

Several people said they wish they knew more about the Suffragettes and the perils they went through to get the vote.

Nearly 60% of those who filled in our survey said they were grateful for what the movement achieved, while 11.2% said they feel they must vote because of what they did.

Joy Bounds, founder of Ipswich’s Women’s Festival, was heartened to see that so many women in Suffolk use their votes – and that several were grateful for what the campaign achieved.

She said: “The sacrifices of the Sufragettes, cannot be underplayed.

“I only hope the centenary will encourage and empower even more of us.

“The movement is fascinating not just because of what it achieved politically, but because it shows what women can do when they come together, when they stand up and do something about the injustices they face.”

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