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19 September 2014
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20th Century Scottish Women - Changing Roles (II)

Marie StopesAgain, the war brought forward the issue of female suffrage. Before the conflict the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant wing of the suffragettes, had made their demands for female suffrage known through extreme methods, with hunger strikes, arson attacks and violent assaults on the King, the Prime Minister and a certain Winston Churchill, amongst others. However
, the suffrage movement at this time was mainly preoccupied with the plight of middle class women and, in general, did not advocate universal suffrage - the vote was to be allocated on the basis of property held, and this excluded not only most women but most men in Scotland as well. The war had the effect of democratising the movement in that more working class women became politically active. In 1918 women over the age of 30 got the vote and ten years later equal voting rights with men was achieved.

Another phenomenon which altered the course of women's history is the falling birth rates throughout the 20th century. Again this trend was first noticeable amongst the middle classes but eventually spread through the whole of society. Between the late 1870s and early 1930s birth rates halved and this had obvious effects on women's ability to pursue careers. The most important influence in this social trend was education and awareness of birth control. Perhaps the most famous and controversial advocate of birth control was Edinburgh-born Marie Stopes, who founded the first Birth Control Clinic in Britain. She wrote a book on feminism and marriage called Married Love (1918), in which she suggested that marriage put an end to a woman’s intellectual life, and she became interested in the subject of birth control after meeting Margaret Sanger, an American advocate of birth control. Her next book, Wise Parenthood, was also published in 1918 and was a concise guide to contraception. The book upset church leaders and the Pope had condemned all forms of contraception, but Marie's books were best sellers and did receive confirmation from both Lloyd George and the medical community, who were keen for public education on the issue. In 1921 Marie formed the Mother's Clinic for Constructive Birth Control in Holloway, London. The National Birth Control Association was established in 1931 under her influence, and in 1967 The Family Planning Act became the greatest testimony to her great reforming work in society.

Hillington FactoryDuring the Second World War there was again a marked increase in the amount of women in the labour market. For example, the Rolls-Royce factory at Hillington near Glasgow employed 10,000 women in the production of spitfire engines. Women were now employed in highly skilled engineering jobs, which before the war would have been unthinkable. In 1940, this new position for women was officially recognised when engineering firms were allowed pay female employees the the same wage as skilled male labourers. This was a historic achievement in the history of female labour and women were prepared to fight for their new rights, as was shown at the Hillington Factory when a strike was called over the Rolls-Royce management's efforts to withhold equal pay. All this didn't mean equal pay for women across the economy, but after the Second World War more women kept their jobs compared to the First World War and the sustained post-war economic boom helped this new position. The economic boom of the 1950s combined with the creation of the Welfare State increased the lot of women massively, especially amongst the working classes. State benefits in childcare, housing and health vastly increased the standard of living for everyone, and made it easier for women with families to enter into employment.

By the swinging 60s most women in the workplace were married, and this demonstrates the huge change in attitudes which had taken place since the First World War when working married women and working mothers were frowned upon, or even pitied. The domestic revolution in labour-saving devices encouraged this new development, as did advances in contraception and the continuing trend for smaller families. Also the economy was starting move away from male-dominated heavy industry towards more light manufacturing, clerical, secretarial and service sector work. Scotland may have been troubled by a reluctance to bury its industrial past, but whilst many men stood in dole queues in the 1970s, Scottish women were increasingly employed in these new industries. By the the 1990s, as Scotland headed towards the millennium, women became the majority of the Scottish workforce. Much of this work was still on a part-time basis and the female wage was still lower on average than the male wage, but this rate of change in such a short period of time is truly staggering.

All this has had major effects on gender relations in Scotland, and men have had to adapt to the new situation as well as women. Women are no longer dependent on male wages, and often the opposite situation is the case. They now have a choice in family planning and have better provision in childcare. The stigma attached to working mothers is no longer valid in the economy. Education and training must now be made available on an
equal basis, by law. Finally, political representation for women steadily increased, and in 1999 the creation of the new Scottish Parliament saw 49 women win seats, making up 37% of all MSPs. Obviously there is still not a position of equality, when women make up 52% of the Scottish population, but in the world-wide league of female parliamentary representation, Scotland is number three, which is a step in the right direction.

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