Women During World War Two

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Do you agree with the view that ‘the war changed very little for women’? Before the First World War, women did not have the vote because they were not seen as contributors towards shaping the country, economically or politically. This is because they were confined, practically, to their homes, as all they could do is cook, clean and look after the children. This is when groups like the Suffragists and the Suffragettes formed. Their aim was to gain the vote. However, propaganda against them made women look useless, even more so. Therefore, not much was changing for them. During World War One, as more and more went off the fight in the western front, their availability to work in the factories and offices decreased dramatically. In addition, women did not have much to do at home, as their men were not there. As a result, they were the only option to work in the factories to produce army supplies. This was a massive turn towards achieving a better position in society for women, because they got a chance to prove that they can do more than just domestic work. Women worked from 8 in the morning until 6:30 in the evening, sometimes even until 8, painting planes with dope varnish, and filling shells with gunpowder and TNT. In return, they got illnesses and diseases, and not to mention, a bare minimum pay for their efforts. This goes to show that Britain would have not carried on the war “without women” as it says in Source 8, because supplies would have decreased drastically, and men fighting would have not been properly equipped to fight. In addition, it obviously presses upon the fact that women were key to success in the war, hence making them just as valuable as men, if not even more so. For that reason, war changed a lot for women because they proved to be of equal importance to men by their efforts during the war to help the men fighting. Having said that, source 8 is a passage from Prime Minister Asquith in 1917. Therefore, it is probable to say that he had a political agenda to get across with his speech, and this means that he could be saying positive things for women in order to gain support, to maintain his position of power. Nonetheless, this does not make the source useless because the Prime Minister would have recognised women’s contribution in the war; therefore, he may have meant what he said. As mentioned before, women were paid for their work in factories. However, as there was no regulation or law regarding a national minimum wage, factory owners exploited this loophole by giving women lower wages, than they would have to men, and their working conditions were very poor. At the time, class was a major part of character judgement, hence making it inevitable to believe that factory owners would have used the fact that “very few” women were “from the middle class” as a reason to not paying women fair wages. This suggests that war changed very little for women, as it also says in Source 9, “it would be wrong, however, to [over]state the extent... the changes in women’s role in the labour force”. This strongly advocates that men still thought that women were inferior to them after the war, regardless their contribution to the “labour force”, therefore, meaning that very little changed for women because they men thought the same of them before and after the war. Even though class was a major issue, women continued to flourish in expanding their range of employment. Fewer women worked in the domestic service by 1918, yet their numbers in munitions, transport, and metals industries steadily rose by the end of the war. These were the kind of jobs that were included as part of “men’s work”, as it says in Source 8. With these increasing numbers, it goes to show the extent of improvement and change the war made for women because it enabled them to widen their abilities into various fields of work, thus making it easier for them to acquire better jobs. In addition, this steady rise in numbers also proved that women were just as good as men were, in terms of what they were capable to do. As a result, it is plausible to say that ‘war changed very little for women’ is a wrong statement because it clearly did as more and more women got more involved in more industries than domestic work successfully. Regardless of progress made by women by moving into different fields of work by the end of the war, a major problem rose. The problem was that men from the Western and Eastern Fronts, were returning home and they wanted their jobs back. However, as women occupied most of their jobs, there was major uproar, and as a result, factory owners decided to let go of their women employees to make way for the men. In fact, two years after the war there were “fewer women in work than... before the war”, as it says in Source 7. It also states that the jobs women had “were hardly different from before the war”. This means that, not only women lost their post in helping make Britain and greater state; they also went, essentially, back to square one. This is because the jobs that got after the men returned were similar to those before the war- domestic work. This regression proves that war changed very little for women. In conclusion, the First World War certainly helped lift women’s profile up in British society, in terms of value and respect. However, this seems to be the case only during the war when they were required to take jobs at supply factories, where the men would have been. Even though this may seem to be a good thing, women were still being exploited by getting less pay and bad working conditions. Finally, after the war, when the men returned, they were left aside once more, because their use was no longer seen, as there was no longer a ‘War Effort’. As a result, women were seen as a subsidiary workforce on a temporary basis, which leads to state that after the war, they would be put back to square one. Thus, it is appropriate to say that war changed very little for women.

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