A century ago this month, Conservative home secretary George Cave successfully passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, which for the first time gave women the chance to vote at the ballot box and sit on the green benches in the House of Commons.
The 1918 Act came after years of protest and debate about women’s suffrage. Let us not forget that brave women fought and died, and were imprisoned for the right to vote.
But in the 100 years since, I am delighted by the progress that has been made towards equality, including the election of Theresa May as our second female prime minister. Today, there are more than 200 female MPs and our democracy is much stronger as a result.
Under this government, more women are in work than ever before, a record 70.8 per cent, the gender pay gap is at the lowest level on record.
In addition, the government is working hard to remove barriers to women and men returning to work by ensuring availability and affordability of childcare.
That includes doubling the free child care allowance for eligible working parents of three and four year olds. New rules, such as 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.
The centenary is a great celebration, but there is still more to be done to eliminate the gender pay gap as well as achieve the long-term ambition of ensuring equal numbers of male and female MPs.
While this is the most diverse parliament in British history, 104 constituencies at the last election had no female candidates, and more must be done to remove the barriers preventing women entering politics.
That includes making sure that we crack down on abuse aimed at women, ethnic minority and gay candidates.
As part of the centenary celebrations a £5m fund has been created so that events, large and small can be held across the country. Hopefully this can be used as a springboard to inspire more young women into politics at all levels.