100 Years of Female Progress: 1918 to 2018 – A Highlights Reel


In 1918, some women were given the right to vote. This was a critical moment in the suffrage movement, however, it was considered only a partial victory. Only women over the age of 30, homeowners or the wives of homeowners, and graduates could vote. The recent repercussion of Weinstein, the continually debated pay gap and underrepresentation of women in high ranking positions demonstrate lasting inequality. However, in the century since women were given the right to vote, women along with male allies have driven notable legislative, social and cultural change. To celebrate the progress, this list highlights the (non-exhaustive) gender milestones achieved in the last 100 years.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The 1918 Representation of the People Act qualified 8.5 million women to vote. This, however, was only 40% of the total population of women in the UK. This act also extended the vote to include more men by abolishing previous restrictions on male voting criteria. This meant whilst 8.5 million women were eligible to vote, 21 million men could too, vastly outnumbering women.


In 1928, the Equal Franchise Act meant women over 21 could vote and had the same voting rights as men.


Before 1948, the quality of healthcare was dependent on social class and geography. The introduction of the NHS meant everyone had access to free healthcare. Previously, only people who were insured, mainly men, had access.


In 1956, legal reforms meant that women in the civil service and teachers would receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

Also in 1956, The Sexual Offences Act defined rape with specific criteria, which included not giving consent, the use of drugs, and sex with girls under sixteen.


In 1967, abortion was decriminalised in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland). David Steel, a Liberal MP, sponsored the Abortion Law Reform Bill, which later became the Abortion Act. This meant abortion was legal if a woman’s life was in danger.

In 1968, female employees at the Ford Car factory strike over equal pay. This almost stopped all production of Ford UK plants. This protest directed the passing of the Equal Pay Act.


In 1972, Erin Pizzey started the first women’s refuge. Previously, women’s refuges helped women in long-term hospital stays transition to the outside world. However, Erin Pizzey’s refuge aimed to help victims of domestic violence.

In 1974, with pressure from the women’s movement, the NHS provided access to contraception.

The Sex Discrimination Act, in 1975, made it illegal to discriminate against women at work or during education and training. Also in 1975, The Employment Protection Act introduced maternity provisions, which meant employers could not fire women for being pregnant.

In 1977, International Women’s Day was formalised by the UN General Assembly. Also, the first Rape Crisis Centre was opened in London.

Britain elects the first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in 1979.


In 1980, women are allowed to apply for loans or credit. Previously, a male guarantor was required.

Five years later, in 1985, The Equal Pay (Amendment Act) meant women were to be paid the same as men for work of equal value.

Diane Abbot becomes the first black, female member of Parliament in 1987.


In 1993, with pressures from women’s rights movements around the world, the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women confirmed that violence against women violates human rights.

In 1994, rape in marriage is made a crime. It took fifteen years of campaigning by women’s organisations. Also in 1994, equal rights for part-time workers were ruled.

The House of Lords granted that women who fear gender persecution should be recognised as refugees in 1999. In the same year, The Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal for employers to discriminate against transgender people.


One year into the millennium saw the Mayor of London launch the London Partnerships Register. This allowed members of the LGBTQ+ community to register their partnerships.

One year later, lesbian and unmarried couples can adopt children as Parliament passes measures.

In 2005, The Civil Partnership Act (2004) allowed same-sex couples rights similar to those for married couples.

In 2007, the Labour Party had the first female Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


In 2012, the United Nations passes a historic bill which outlawed Female Genital Mutilation. Also, the UN celebrated the Day of the Girl on the 11th October.

In 2014, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism for female education and human’s rights advocacy.

In 2016, Theresa May became the second female Prime Minister in Britain.

In 2017, Cressida Dick became the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. In the same year, Dick also came out as gay. She is the highest-ranking LGBT officer in British police history.

The Representation of the People Act in 1918 was a result of years of resolute and sometimes, brutal struggle. In the following hundred years there have been countless examples of women and men fighting for equality. From women being given the right to vote, to having women in high ranking positions, such as Prime Minister and Commissioner, the progress is outstanding. These women have paved the future. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another hundred years to overcome the prevailing inequality. It is humbling to celebrate the women who fought for the rights we have, which we can all continue to build upon.


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