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Legal rights that women have now that they didn’t have 100 years ago

March 8, 2019
Employment Law

Today is International Women’s Day (8th March), a day celebrated around the world that calls for gender equality as well as highlighting women’s achievements. The day has been observed since the early 1900s with roots tracing back to 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay, and shorter working hours. 

The day got its official title in 1910 when a woman called Clara Zetkin, the leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed the idea. Over 100 women from 17 countries agreed with her suggestion and the day was formed. It was celebrated the following year in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on the 19th March. It was in 1913 that the day was changed to the 8th March and in 1975, the day was recognised by the United Nations with a theme created each year since.

The theme this year is Balance for Better. In 2019, a gender pay gap exists across the globe with women not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than their male counterparts. 

The World Economic Forum has reported that the gender pay gap won’t close until 2186 and the global gender equality gap could take a further 98 years to close completely.  

In recent years, the news has heavily featured sexual misconduct with the #MeToo movement taking centre stage – the movement which gave a voice to women on the abuse and harassment they suffer in film, fashion, music, politics, and art.

For this year’s International Women’s Day, we’ve taken a look at some of the legal rights women have faced over the years.

Female Careers

· The Sex Disqualification Removal Act 1919 allowed women to serve on a jury or as a magistrate. It also changed the law on women being disqualified from certain professions on the grounds of gender as well as giving them access to the legal profession and accountancy for the first time. They were also allowed to hold any civil or judicial office or post

· Until the Life Peerages Act 1958 was passed, women could not sit in the House of Lords

· The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 and it was the Equal Pay (Amendment) Act 1983 that allowed women to be paid the same as men for work of equal value

· The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made it illegal to discriminate against women in work, education, and training. A number of different anti-discrimination laws were replaced by the Equality Act 2010

Votes for Women

· In 1918 around six million women in the UK were given the parliamentary vote, the first time a woman had been able to vote

· All women in the UK were given the vote at age 21 (the same age as men) in 1928

Family Life

· Until the Law of Property Act in 1922, women could not inherit their husband’s property. In 1926 legislation was passed that meant women could hold and dispose of property on the same terms as men

· Before 1975, women could not open a bank account in their own name as women were seen as a ‘high-risk investment’ by banks. A single woman couldn’t apply for a loan or credit card in their name unless they had a signature from their father, even if they earned more. A working woman was also refused mortgages in the 70s unless they could provide a signature from a male guarantor

· Female victims of domestic violence were provided with legal protection thanks to the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act of 1976

· Until the law changed in 1982, women could be refused service in a pub if they spent their own money

· The Trade Union reform and Employment Rights Act of 1994 guaranteed every working woman the right to maternity leave for the first time

Sex, Contraception, and Abortions

· In 1929 The Infant Life (Preservation) Act was passed that made abortions legal if they would save the life of a pregnant woman

· Despite the contraceptive pill being launched in 1961, unless you were a married women you couldn’t legally access it. In 1967, it was made readily available to all by the NHS Family Planning Act

· The Abortion Act 1967 rendered abortion legal if it was carried out by a medical practitioner and when two medical practitioners reached a consensus on one of the following:

1.    The pregnancy is less than 28 weeks old and continuation would pose a risk to the woman and her existing family

2.    That termination of the pregnancy is necessary to avoid risk of death or serious injury to the pregnant woman

3.    That the resulting child would suffer such severe physical or mental abnormalities as to affect their permanent quality of life

In 1990 the maximum term was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks

· In December 2018, the Republic of Ireland signed a bill that legalised abortion in the Republic of Ireland, up to the 12th week of a pregnancy

· Before 1991 it was not a criminal offence to commit rape in a marriage

It is clear to see that issues surrounding women’s rights have progressed leaps and bounds over the past 100 years, however with so many areas still in need of progress, we anticipate the next 100 years to bring further reform to continue the legacy of International Women’s Day.

If you’re facing a legal issue, male or female, please contact us to see how we can assist you.

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