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Women's contribution to the war

Free essay example:

Q. Did women’s contribution to the war during 1939-1945 have a greater long term impact than 1914-18?

        Women’s contributions to the war in 1939-1945 had a greater long term impact than in 1914-1918.  Many of the Acts created in WWII are still in place today and it is thought that WWI laid the foundations for women and helped to build their confidence.  However, it was WWIIthat put everything women had previously learned into practice.  From taking on men’s jobs, fighting for the vote and introducing several parties it is evident that women and society have come a long way and have continued to progress after 1945.

        Before WWI women were never considered to be worthy of any jobs apart from being domestic servants.  These jobs involved cleaning, cooking and other household duties. Domestic servants had no trade union, they took little part in class or political struggles and performed services which had no exchange value.  This demonstrates of how little importance women were considered to be.  Women were not authorized to go to work and undertake what was seen to be a ‘man’s job’, such as tram driving or machinery work.  However, WWI helped women to realise their own potential.  For the first time they obtained work.  Through this many women discovered they were as capable as men in handling skilled trades, selling products to clients and for the first time being able to support themselves and their family.  Near the end of WWI the majority of women had high hopes for the future.  Nevertheless, although they thought they had managed to secure themselves with a comfortable job and income, working on the trams and in the factories things drastically changed.  As soon as men returned from the war, women were forced aside.  Perhaps if a substantial amount of women had protested, a social revolution could have occurred and women could have secured occupational work earlier.  Even so, Ray Strachey expresses how women were scrutinized for seeking job security “if women went on working it was from a sort of deliberate wickedness” (N. A. Ferguson. (1975) pg 57 ).   Strachey is completely against women’s strive for work.  He is naive about women’s expectations from the war in not realising that all women had ever aimed to achieve and desired could be lost forever.  Nevertheless, there was a scarce amount of positive results from WWI.  In 1918 women saw a major breakthrough, as all women over thirty were awarded the vote.  This was a huge achievement and women everywhere were ecstatic as nothing like this had ever been accomplishedbefore.   Although women’s progress was slow they were definitely moving in the right direction.  By 1929 there was another immense achievement as all women over the age of twenty one were granted the vote.  1914-18 proved to be a greatly successful time period for women and it could be said that it laid the foundations for women in the future. Although there were some flaws during this time period, women definitely made a difference for themselves.

        1939-45 made major life changing impacts on women in the war as it provided them with another opportunity to embrace and attain work in comparison to the anti-climax of WWI.  By the 1930s  the percentage of women in the labour force was drastically increasing.  Before, women’s opinions on political issues were formerly disregarded, however, between 1939-45 women had made men take notice of their views.  As the years progressed more actions were modified for the benefit of women in comparison to WWI where women were seen as second best citizens.Factories authorized two half hour sessions of ‘Music While You Work’ in 1940.  This illustrates that employers valued women’s work and granted this music as a bonus in keeping them occupied whilst working away, a privilege that was not granted between 1914-1918.  This was another huge breakthrough as it appeared that women were being seen as human beings and for once being valued.  Some women coped extremely well with the workload and the new demands of the job, so the Government introduced an Extended Employment of Women agreement.  This permitted skilled women that needed no assistance from men to advance towards the male rate over a period of time.  The minority of women eligible for this barely reaped any benefits because if “the employer maintains that a woman’s work produces less than man’s the burden of proof should rest on the employer” (N.A Ferguson, 1975, pg 62 ).  Basically, it was down to the employer to decide if women earned this bonus, as the agreement states that they are able to refuse any women if they feel that the work is not to a satisfactory standard.  Many women were confused as to what was considered to be substantial work, as the employer did not take into consideration that women were doing two jobs in trying to keep the home running whilst working.  (Susan L. Carruthers, 1989, pg 239).   Women eligible for the extra money should definitely have received it.  Although this agreement was introduced, there was no significant difference in practice in comparison to 1914-18, apart from the fact that it was introduced.   As well as this, it specified that women were only temporary workers so if any men were to return from the war, all the women would be removed, the exact same way they were previously in WWI.  Despite that, improvements were established and in full practice for women.  In December 1941 women aged twenty to twenty four were conscripted into the military.  This was a huge achievementfor women as never before had the government trusted women with such responsibility,they were even offered a choice between the women’s civil defence or the munitions industries.  Women’s morals were raised by this as men started to acknowledge women as being capable.  Women then took it upon themselves to create acts to prevent men from ordering them around again.  It is clear that women’s contribution to the war made a difference, as several changes were made that have continued even to this day however, they were not all long term achievements.  

        As well as this, women were granted part-time schemas in 1943 which led to an increase in productivity in part-time workers in comparison to full time workers.  They no longer felt restricted by the government in being forced to work the long hours they found strenuous to do.  It was definitely one of the main advantages created by WWII, as by 1944 nine hundred thousand women were opting for part time work (Sue Bruley, 1999, pg96).  Women were able to look after their families and still go to work which they had previously been struggling with during 1914-18.  Even now, in the twenty first century, part-time work is still in place, with some employers having even introduced flexi-time.  It is clear that 1939-45 definitely had greater long term impacts than 1914-18.   Some of the outcomes from 1939-45 are still in place today however, it is also evident that some were impermanent in the same that the majority of actions were between 1914-18.

        Again, as the war progressed between 1939-45 other acts were introduced by committees such as the Equal Pay Campaign Committee. This group succeeded in making equal pay for teachers as a provision of the 1944 Education Act.  Previously, teachers were only earning seventy five per cent of men’s wages however, with this act in place, women could now earn the same wage as men.  Although these acts were in place the Government set up a Royal Commission on Equal Pay without setting a limit for the report, leaving a date unresolved until after the war.  Although nothing was done until after the war, it could be said that women’s actions had a lasting impact on the government as this act was put into practice after 1945.  The British Parliament established an Equal Pay Act in 1970 to prevent discrimination as regards to terms and conditions of employment between men and women.  The Government had a definite discouragement for women being seen as equal.  This was only a minor hindrancefor women, as additional child care support was set up to supportmore women to work.  By 1944, over one thousand five hundred nurseries run by local authorities were set up pushing the vast majority of British women into jobs.  Something that was completely unheard of between 1914-18.  Women and the government benefited considerablyfrom this and it is an idea that continues to this day.  

        Britain has thousands of nurseries and day support groups for children to help mother’s go off to work.  The government and employees noticed the drastic improvement in work productivity and attentiveness of the women in comparison to previous years, because of these new child care facilities.  As well as this extra support, employee’s health was looked at in greater detail.  It could be said that through women’s contribution to the war, employers began to realise their potential and began to treat them better.  Larger factories were forced to establish work canteens for women due to some women still working twelve hour shifts.  This was a common sight between 1914-18 however, there were no compulsory canteens.  By the end of the war, over ten thousand canteens were in operation, the toilets and washrooms were upgraded and medical services were provided in the workplace.  Again it could be argued that it was because of women’s efforts and how they dealt with the appalling standards that employers have realised they should help their employees out by providing substantial facilities. Employees were cared for like never before as employers seemed concerned about their physical health and well-being, whereas between 1914-18, if women could not do something it was because they were women not because of their physical health.  All working places have now in the twenty first century, to reach a minimum standard.  It could be argued that WWII was the backbone for these standards being set.

        Another gain for women in WWII was the trade unions.  In 1945 one third of a million women were authorized to join, in comparison to 1939 where only one half of a million joined.  Women were provided witha chance to convey their feelings about the work.  Women must have being doing something right during 1939-45 for them to be granted this.  They must have made a big enough impact between 1939-45 as all women today are permittedto join their own trade unions in their work.  It is evident that women’s contribution to the war during 1939-45 had a greater long term impact than 1914-1918.  This is shown as the majority of Acts and Reforms that were formed in 1939-45 have been adapted and still in place today.  

        From the facts, it is clear that WWII made more of a difference than WWI judging from the acts and long term adaptations.  It is possible that one of the main reasons for this was due to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage which was founded in 1897.  The real progress and proper establishment did not happen until 1917 when Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter joined.  They both supported the war and endorsed a whole platform of equal rights for women, including equal pay for equal work, equal parental rights and public maternity benefits.  These women were smart and used the war to help them with their own needs in demanding the release of all suffragettes from jail in exchange to cease their campaign.  Something so tactical had never been seen from women before.  This was really the first time women were properly noticed.  Although the suffragists existed they were seen and not heard however, the suffragettes managed to draw enough attention to make men at least listen to what they had to say.  Even though this campaign appeared to be successful, many people believed that women were deprived the vote longer because of their violence and outrageous actions.  Some members of the public did not even think that women were capable of voting because of this.  However, it was the long term impact of the suffragists that made a difference.  Their constant peaceful tactics in fighting for what they believed to be right eventually gained them equality with men.  These women were smart enough to see the long term goal and managed to achieve this, proving to men that they could argue for what they believed to be right, they could stand up for themselves, they were capable and reliable citizens.  It is unquestionably evident that the suffragists actions made a notable difference and an over all impact on society even after 1945.  

        It was WWI that made women realise that society was not run correctly however, no significant changes were made.   As stated by Ferguson when men returned from the war “the process was put into quick reverse” showing that by 1918 women had not made a big enough impact to maintain their jobs.  Women quickly learned from this and WWII provided them with a second chance.  It could be said that if WWII had not occurred, women may never have stood up to men in becoming equal.  1939-45 had a definite greater long term impact than 1914-18 as their confidence and independence began to grow which stood them in good ground for the future.  This small taste of independence received from both wars led to a new life for women.  No longer were women going to be classed as housewives or women with no brains, women had made a big enough impact in WWII to make steady progress.  The suffragists have got to be credited for their achievements, through their constant pressure on the government and men they managed to achieve things that women had only dreamed of before.  Through the use of hindsight, it is evident to historians that 1939-45 was an extremely crucial period for women.  It was a period where notable changes were made that are continued to this day.    

Biliography

Bruley. S (1999) Women in Britain since 1900, We Can Do It!’: The Second World War 1939-1945, pg 96

Carruthers. S.L, (1989), ‘Manning the Factories’: Propaganda and Policy on the

Employment of Women, 1939-1947, pg 239, History, Vol.75, no.244

Ferguson. N. A, (1975), ‘Women’s Work: Employment Opportunities and

Economic Rules, 1918-39. pg 57, 62, Albion, Vol.7, no.1

www.bbc.co.uk/history/British/Britain

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