Sex Disqualification Act (1918)
In Chapter 16, of A Man of Insignificance, Antoinette Dubois says to Roisin de Hay, ‘….we have a society that is supposed to be based on liberty, egalite and fraternity, but who is free, who is equal and who is in the brotherhood? Not the women, if you wish to stay at home and manage your house and have as many children as you wish, then you are free and equal to do this, if you wish to have an ambition to be admitted to the higher professions then you are not free and equal. Iif you are a woman, you can be the nurse but you can’t be the doctor, you can be the nun but you can’t be the priest, you can be the clerk but you can’t be the lawyer, you can be the politician’s wife or the politician’s mistress but you can’t be the politician, any one that is important, any role that is significant, women are not allowed to be part of it.’
Antoinette was speaking in Ireland about France, the year was 1917. Her perceptions were also true of the United Kingdom, Ireland and across much of Europe. Women were discriminated against because of their gender.
There were a few exceptions, but these were women who had usually gained qualifications and registrations through a loophole or a circuitous route. In the main women were effectively barred from what was known as the higher professions: Law, Medicine, Accountancy. They were tolerated as Teachers as long as they remained unmarried. The legacy of this is still with us today with pupils invariably calling female teachers ’Miss’.
It wasn’t until 1928 that women in the U.K were granted full and equal voting rights. This was only after a lengthy suffragette campaign wherein women were arrested, beaten, gaoled, went on hunger strike and in certain cases died.
In 1919 The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act became law and the end of employment discrimination through gender was on its way. Initially it fell short of fully realising the expectations of British and Irish women. It was a gradual process. It didn’t so much as open the floodgates but lowered the drawbridge fully and began to raise the portcullis, albeit slowly. Gradually women began to qualify and practice in the higher professions.
In the U.K. It has been an arduous task, but today approaching fifty percent of the working solicitors in the U.K are women and women make up sixty percent of the practising doctors.
Copyright © 2015 K. C. Dowling