Helen Pankhurst: Why we must all vote

Helen Pankhurst
Two women at the #March4Women organised by CARE to promote gender equality

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote (though at first only women over 30 who owned property could vote: it took another 10 years for women to receive equal voting rights). 2018 is also the 100th anniversary of many more men gaining the right to vote, as the voting age for men was reduced to 21.

A century on, both women and men are choosing not to vote. For the sake of the quality of us, as citizens, and the legitimacy of our government, this has to change.

I am regularly asked what my great-grandmother Emmeline and the other suffragettes would make of the fact that millions of women who could vote fail to do so.

My response is first that we need to turn the issue on its head: it is surprising how many do vote, given how little Parliament looks like them and reflects their interests.

The UK ranks 47th in the world in terms of the number of women in Parliament – only 30% of MPs are women. Parliament is also unrepresentative in terms of diversity more broadly, further weakening the democratic process – the sense that Parliament understands the electorate and is there for us all.

There is a catch-22 situation at work, with those who don’t feel represented being the least likely to vote. Research suggests that in most elections, the youngest 18-24 age group has been much less likely to vote than the oldest 65+ age group, with a margin of at least 10% difference. Wealth and education are also factors, with poorer, less educated citizens least likely to vote.

Politicians reward those who vote for them. One of the reasons we all need to vote is so that our interests are taken into account and policies are not skewed to one segment of the population.

If you don’t vote you don’t have a say in the decisions that affect your life, but also the decisions that have a global impact, such as government policies on overseas aid.

Change will only happen if we exercise our democratic rights and take that most basic of first steps by casting our vote in the ballot box.

Voting was only the beginning for the suffrage campaigners more than 100 years ago and this is ever more so today. But voting is still a critical element. A building built with only two thirds of the required number of bricks, with holes in every part of the building, is a pretty weak one. The same could be said of a democracy missing a third of its electorate.

So, whatever your politics, on the 8th of June, please vote.

Vote to reduce the number of empty holes in our democracy and vote, in diversity, for a Parliament that, whatever our background, we can all be proud of.

Helen Pankhurst's picture

Helen Pankhurst is CARE International UK's Special Adviser on Gender Equality