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Record number of women elected to parliament on anniversary of Emily Davison's death

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I remember the first time I watched Emily Davison step to her death. I still feel the same way now, watching it again, as I did at 12 – that there is some ghoulish quality, something uncomfortably voyeuristic, that accompanies the viewing of that grainy, confused clip.

Of course, that’s why Emily Davison did what she did: for the voyeurs. On the 4th June 1913, the suffragette who had endured more than 40 forced feedings during her numerous hunger strikes in prison demonstrated once more that her physical welfare was second to her resolute belief in women’s right to vote.

So it was that merely another onlooker at the Epsom Derby became its most notable attendee – breaking through the crowd and ducking under the railing to step in front of the oncoming King’s horse, hoping to draw attention to the suffragette cause at one of the most vital public events of the social calendar.

The funeral of Emily Davison // Wiki Commons 

Yesterday’s election coincided with the anniversary of Davison’s death (she finally succumbed to her injuries four days after the Derby, in Epsom Cottage Hospital.) Papers including The Telegraph and the Metro marked the anniversary with explanations of Davison’s life, death, and significance, while many social media users commemorated her accordingly, taking to Twitter to remind those who may be less inclined to vote of the importance that they do so – as one user, @thenamesnicola put it, Emily Davison ‘didn’t chuck herself in front of a horse for u to turn round 100 years later n say you’re not voting cos ya can’t be arsed [sic]’.

On my own Instagram, I felt it only right to post a picture of a band of suffragettes out protesting, proudly bearing their placards emblazoned with ‘Votes for Women’.

It’s impossible to say how Emily Davison and her contemporaries would have felt about the political landscape for women today, but with the news that 2017’s snap election has seen a record number of women elected, there is perhaps a sense of vindication to be felt – after all, it hasn’t even been a 100 years since women gained suffrage on equal terms with men, when 1928 saw the introduction of the Equal Franchise Act.

With more than 200 women having secured their place in the House of Commons, a meaningful increase from 2015’s 196, it seems fair to have some faith in the trend of female participation in politics only continuing to grow. Not yet a year after the despicable murder of Labour MP Jo Cox on the 16th June 2016, there is perhaps a sense of quiet solidarity among the women who refuse to allow a barbaric attack on a politician, mother, and wife affect their own decision to stand for and serve their chosen constituency.

Moreover, those dismayed by the way in which female politicians seem to face greater exposure to unjust and disproportionate criticism, motivated by their gender – and for anything from what they wear to the manner in which they debate and conduct themselves – can find some solace in the victory of Diane Abbott, who despite a seriously tough reception in this election campaign managed to increase her majority in Hackney North and Stoke Newington by more than 11,000 votes.

Nonetheless, some women may not be feeling they have quite as much to celebrate. Theresa May – the UK’s second female Prime Minister, and a politician who has frequently courted comparisons to Margaret Thatcher – is likely to be feeling rather less assured of herself this morning. Despite having defined herself as a ‘bloody difficult woman’ earlier in the year – a phrase deliberately reminiscent of Thatcher’s status as ‘the Iron Lady’ – May’s crucial mistake in calling this election, confident in the belief that she would increase her majority in parliament, suggests she is rather more out of touch with her electorate than she’d obviously thought herself to be.

It remains to be seen whether a larger amount of female representation in Parliament will greatly impact on women's lives - whether this will see more gender-specific concerns feature in debates and legislation, and whether feminist campaigners will be vindicated by more attention being paid to issues such as the Tampon Tax, or preventing the practice of FGM. Ultimately, what women do with their seat in the Commons will depend on their party and their own personal beliefs.

Still - there does seem a certain serendipity about the election of a record number of female MPs taking place on the anniversary of Davison's death. 

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