Victoria is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, and is MP for Louth.
When my grandmother was born, her mother, like every woman in this country, had no vote and no power. This prohibition from voting seems alien to our modern eyes: today, a female Prime Minister is leading the country, and a third of our Members of Parliament are female.
The Government wants this to be a year in which we celebrate the achievements of women in politics and other areas of public life. Events, large and small, will be held across the country, and a special £5 million fund will help fund many of these celebrations, as well as efforts to encourage more women to stand.
The fact that Theresa May is our Prime Minister during the year of these celebrations demonstrates neatly how far women have come since my grandmother was born. This is, however, a good time to reflect on what more there is to do to improve women’s participation in our democracy.
The reason we are encouraging more women into politics is because having talented women in senior positions is important in politics, as it is in all professions. They bring a wealth of experience and perspectives into the House and local councils which, in turn, improves the quality of decisions taken. They can also inspire other women to get involved. #AskHerToStand is already popular on social media and at Conservative events: you will hear it repeatedly this year!
But if participation is to mean anything, we must look beyond Westminster and council chambers. We have been championing women’s rights and equality in all areas of women’s lives. There are now more women in work than ever before, meaning that more women have the independence and security of a regular salary.
We want to ensure that the money that women earn is equal to that paid to male colleagues doing the same job. We are requiring large companies which employ more than 250 people to publish their gender pay gap in April. As the BBC is finding out, transparency causes change.
We are also investing £5 million in returnships to help those returning to work after long career breaks. Returnships will be open to women and men, with the aim of giving people who have taken lengthy career breaks the opportunity to refresh their skills and build professional networks.
One of the key barriers to women and men returning to work is the availability and affordability of childcare. This is why we have doubled the free child care allowance for eligible working parents of three and four year olds. In addition, the introduction of Shared Parental Leave and Pay means that working couples can split the untaken balance of the mother’s maternity leave and pay flexibly between themselves.
And our work goes beyond the workplace: the elimination of violence against women and girls is a priority for the Government. We have introduced new laws and funding to break the cycle of violence and are working on a horizon-changing Domestic Abuse Bill to tackle this hidden crime.
Overseas, UK aid is pioneering 15 innovative approaches to prevent gender based violence across 12 countries, reaching an estimated 100,000 people.
Suffragettes and suffragists were bold in their ambition: we, too, should be bold. Let us celebrate the last 100 years of women’s suffrage and ask what we want for women in the next 100 years.