AN February I last year the
Women's Services became permanent and an integial part of the Forces of the Crown. What a revolution in thought that signifies and its quiet acceptance as a matter of course by the general public is the clearest indictation of that revolution.
The miracles of one age are the commonplaces of the next and no doubt women in the Services will soon be taken for granted in the same way that all but the diehards now accept women doctors (the object of insults and jeers less than a century ago), women lawyers (of whom one is a stipendiary magistrate and three others have attained the eminent letters K.C.) and women M.P.s. In many another sphere women, in small numbers, are gaining eminence when a generation ago they were regarded as interlopers and two generations ago the mere idea of admitting women would have beet regarded as revolutionary. Lady Astor has described some of the attacks and humiliations she endured as the first woman to take her scat in the House of Commons. And in admiration of the determined spirit of the pioneer women who fought for the suffrage she has publicly exclaimed : " When I knew what was behind me, I didn't mind what was in front."
As recently as January last year the Act was placed on the Statute book restoring to married women the right to an independent
nationality. Since 1870 a British woman who wished to marry a national of another country had to choose between patriotism and love, while at the same time any foreign woman however undesirable could attain British nationality by merely going through a form of marriage with a British man.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
Equal pay for equal work is now in the forefront of the work of women's societies and is almost the last bastion of legal inequality in this country. Until the Government gives equal pay to the women employed in its service, it is not fulfilling the fundamental human rights laid down in the Declaration of the United Nations, which affirms faith " in the equal rights of men and Women, that there shall be no distinction of sex and that everyone " has the right to equal pay for equal work."
Even in reactionary quarters there is little theoretical opposition now to this obvious piece of justice. It has become a matter of expediency. And those who have a sneaking sympathy with the Government's refusal to embark on new increased expenditure at this critical time, arc not encouraged to abate their demand by the sight of constant giving in to powerful men's organisations demanding wages when justice for women La ;Oil! denied.
Another stronghold still resisting Is the House of Lords, to which women peers in their own right are rot yet admitted.
But when all is said and done equality on the Statute book is only the first step. Those who have struggled for years in work for sonic needed reform, may feel that it is a herculean task to alter the law, but it is easier to alter the law than the mind and heart of man.
The clearest evidence I ever saw of that was in Turkey where the International Alliance of Women held a Congress in 1935, shortly after Kemal Ataturk's republic had established equality for women under the law. The rOle of Turkish women had been a symbol of subjection for generations and freedom had been granted more from above than from an uprising of spirit among the depressed. One could easily see that the newly emancipated women did not yet understand what their freedom meant. The harem and the yen were abolished but their shadow lingered yet. It is not possible to wipe out centuries of feeling and tradition by writing words on a piece of paper.
In the fourteen years that have elapsed since then, Turkish women have responded magnificently to their opportunities, and form part of a great rising of women in Eastern countries.
Women Get the Leavings
Legal equality is an essential basis on which to build but the work of building still remains. Many people say: " But surely in this country women have now equality." Have they ? I have heard Dr. Edith Snmmerskill, one of the most successful women in public life, say that in politics women only get the leavings, and the seats no man wants.
Those who believe there is equality should think for a moment of the men and women of their acquaintance, of brothers and sisters for example, of their relative abilities and the comparative positions they hold. I saw in the W.R.N.S. the number of extremely able women who had never before had scope for their gifts, people who came to the top as soon as they had a chance and who had previously held only insignificant posts. If they had been men. they would certainly have been in posts of responsibility in public life or business.
THE CATHOLIC HERALD has reported one of our Bishops as saying that in this 20th Century the influence of women has become the dominating factor in political and economic life. Unless he is alluding to the time-honoured rile of women as a second-hand influence, either as mother of children or the power behind the throne, I cannot think what he has in mind.
Women have a place, but a very small place, in the political and economic life of the country and by no stretch of the imagination or wishful thinking can they be said to be " the dominant factor."
From the Beginning
The opportunity to learn and gain experience must start early in life. It may be said that when it comes to posts of responsibility, there are many more men qualified than women. That may be so, but are they better qualified in natural ability or is it just that they have acquired knowledge and experience in fields where it is extremely difficult for women to enter. Only too often the able young woman is put in as somebody's secretary, while the able young man is given an administrative position. The women are to blame for accepting such a oate of affairs. People may be tired of hearing about " women's rights," but unless the young women of today have the courage end the sirength and the unselfishness to press for equal opportunity, women will continue to occupy an ancillary position.
The professions are at least open to women. In the business world it is rare to find women in posts of authority, and in industry many trades refuse admittance to women entirely. The adoption of the principle of equal pay may have an effect on that.
It will be argued that the root of the matter lies in the fact that most people marry and that the married woman's work as wife and mother lies in the home. No one has a greater regard than I have for a happy and stable family life and there is no more valuable work than bringing up children in Christian standards and with the security behind them of a good home and loving parents. Both parents have an equal responsibility in this and sometimes the father's share is under-emphasised, But there is no doubt that in normal circumstancer the care of the home and children largely falls to the woman's share, and that they constitute a full-time job while the children are young. They do not however stay young always, and the experience gained as a homemaker is something that should he extremely valuable in public life. The woman in the home is the one who has the most expert knowledge of the problems of daily living and these problems are only too often dealt with by those who have no practical experience at all.
All girls before marriage should have the best education possible and a proper training either of an academic or a practical nature. A trained mind will not only make a better homemaker but will fit the woman for other work and interests when her children are older. While the children arc young a mother needs superb physical health, great determination and the wherewithal to pay for domestic assistance. if she is to be able to do any work outside the home. But then it must be admitted that our social structure is designed to tie the woman to her home as much as possible.
While there are aspects of the recent Report of the Royal Commission on Population which Catholics cannot accept, there are also recommendations which are thoroughly desirable and just and very welcome. The Commission recognise: "the contribution that women can make to the cultural and economic life of the nation" and urges that adjustments " be made that would render it easier for women to combine motherhood and the care of the home with outside activities."
Their suggestions include increased family allowances, larger income tax reliefs, and a number of aids including communal laundries, home-helps, nursery schools, holidays for mothers and housing priorities. Some Catholics level criticism at the idea of nursery schools or any communal activities. as if the fact of mothers being relieved of their children for a few hours daily, would strike a blow at the sanctity of family life.
To most mothers, it would simply mean a little more time to look after the home, and that they would be better tempered and less harassed. If in addition it became possible for them to indulge in some cultural hobby or to undertake part-time work or some voluntary social or committee work, such women would not only be aiding the particular activity concerned but would be gaining valuable experience for the later period when they are able to give more time to public work. In considering the case of married women, who are of course the majority, one must not forget that there are a great many unmarried women. and also widows with the added responsibility of children, who have to earn their living. It is easy to base conditions on the assumption that all women have husbands to support them. but this is not in fact the case. It is most unjust to penalise and limit the activities of all women because some are not going to make use of the opportunities if provided. if there were equal opportunities for all, individuals would be able to plan their lives according to their own vocation without artificial handicaps.
Different Roles ?
I am not going to start at this date discussing whether or not it is a good thing for women to take an active part in public life. There arc doubtless some who still think that men and women were designed for different roles in life: that man's sphere is the public arena and woman's sphere is limited to the home. To such I would say that politics and nearly every aspect of public life touches the home very closely. Those who are experts in the home should have a very direct hand in decisions involving religious training, education. the food supply, the heating of houses, health regulations. etc., etc.
There is another school of thought. which includes myself, which regards men and women as very similar human beings, with different characters, gifts and tastes according to their own individuality and not according to sex. These will want to see more women in public life for a different reason. From the point of view of the individual, nothing leads to greater frustration and misery than the possession of talents which are denied scope; from the point of view of the country, the wider the sphere Of choice the better is the chance of bringing the best minds to bear on our affairs.
And from the Catholic point of view if women as well as !mei take their share of public responsibility then the source of Catholic influence is doubled. As nothing can be more important in public life than the increasing el Christian standards-of truth, compassion and morality, there is a special duty on Catholic women tc play their nart.
There is no need for words of mine. Let me quote from the allocution. of His Holiness the Pope to Catholic women three years ago : " Never in the world's history have events demanded of women so much initiative and boldness and such a sense of responsibility." The Holy Father also spoke of Catholic women descending into the market place to take their place in the struggle, and that " the heavy burden of public work was a contribution of the first order to the common welfare." These were not the qualities nor the actions expected of women fifty years ago-they were needed no doubt but not demanded. Today the need is known and it is the Holy Father himself who gives us the lead.
CROSSWORD SOLUTION.-No. 82.
ACROSS : I Beelzebub, 6 Idle, 9 Wild beasts, 10 Asia, 12 Lustral, 13 Ireland, 14 Ibsen, 15 Treasurer, 17 Marchpane, 21 Owing, 23 Gehenna, 24 Artiste, 25 True, 26 Dispensary, 27 Seed, 25 Reversing. DOWN: 2 Enlist, 3 Labyrinthine, 4 Epaulet, 5 Untwine, 7 Despair, 8 Eland, 9 William, 11 Sea-snortings, 16 Roguery, 18 Re-house, 19 Avarice, 28 Example, 22 In Spain, 23 Gates.