Celebrating the role of North East women

My letter, published in today’s Journal, to mark International Women’s Day 2011: 

Celebrate the role of North East Women

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, with over 400 events taking place in Britain alone to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.

I will be marking this occasion by joining with my fellow Labour women MPs in Westminster at the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British suffragette movement, which helped women to win the right to vote. 

However, it is also important that we use today to celebrate the role played by proud North East women throughout the centuries.

To take just one example, Ellen Wilkinson, often known as ‘Red Ellen’, who was one of the first women to be elected as an MP in Britain, representing Middlesbrough and later Jarrow.

Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen helped to organise the historic Jarrow March, which itself is marking its 75th anniversary this year. 

She went on to become the first woman to be appointed as Minister of Education, overseeing the implementation of the landmark 1944 Education Act and the introduction of free milk to all schoolchildren (unlike another well-known female politician). 

Ellen also successfully introduced the 1938 Hire Purchase Act, which protected vulnerable people buying goods on credit.

It is all too easy to take hard won rights that we enjoy today for granted.

And, whilst there are still not enough women MPs in the Commons, it is thanks to the pioneering work of Labour women like Ellen, that other Labour women like me are in Parliament today.