Tuesday this week marked the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave women the first opportunity to vote in national elections. For those who had campaigned so vehemently in the face of opposition, the Act must have represented the end of a hard-fought but just campaign. But we know now it was just the beginning of an incredible contribution to public service by women.
After the Act was passed, 1918 offered the first chance for women to vote and stand as candidates. Sinn Fein candidate Constance Markievicz won in Dublin St Patrick's, but did not take her seat. The following year, another election allowed Conservative Nancy Astor to become the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons. It took a further ten years from the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918 for men and women to receive equal rights to vote through the Equal Franchise Act.
Women's influence in the House continued to grow, and in 1975, Margaret Thatcher became the first women elected as the Leader of a British political party. Four years later, she became Britain's first female Prime Minister. We now of course have our second female Prime Minister in Theresa May.
Today, there are over 200 female MPs and our democracy is much stronger as a result. In the General Election last year, 29% of candidates were women, which is a record level. But 104 constituencies had no women candidates at all, which means 7.5 million people had no option to vote for a woman as their representative. South Shropshire though is ahead of the curve, and in the Ludlow Constituency, last year's election was the first time the majority of candidates were women - in fact I was the only male candidate.
While progress is being made, I am deeply concerned about the intimidation and abuse all candidates receive, in particular female colleagues, and what effect this could have on encouraging women to put themselves forward for election. I know the Prime Minister takes this very seriously, and is considering taking additional measures to protect candidates and their families from the worst threats and personal abuse.
All the main parties have organisations to help and support women who are seeking to stand, including the Conservative Women's Organisation founded in 1919, and Women2Win launched by Theresa May in 2002. So this is a great week to encourage women to get involved in serving their community.