World War One which was fought between July 28th 1914 to November 11th 1918 was one of the largest war in history. Many European countries were involved in this war and Britain was not an exception. However, at that time, the British only had a small army of volunteers. Men had to be called out to fight the war for their country. With men recruited into the army, many of the jobs in the country were left vacant. In 1916, there was a conscription which required the need for women to work urgently. How would this war affect women? They were greatly affected. Women were now given greater opportunities to do jobs which were conventionally reserved for men. However, these opportunities came with many downsides such as inequality of pay, changes in gender expectations and the after effect of World War One.
In the beginning of World War One, women were commonly employed as domestic servants at homes. Other occupations for women were like teachers and nurses. Most women already worked outside of their homes for money, while also taking their role as domestic servant inside their own homes. Women did mostly domestic task like sewing, knitting, dressmaking, washing, ironing, and jewellery making. It was not until World War One that women had the freedom to do the men’s job which they were not allowed to do before.
When men were being called to fight during the war, women took over men’s job. Women had to do jobs on land like farming and they set up the Women’s Land Army in 1917. Women also worked as railway guards, ticket collectors, buses and tram conductors, postal workers, police, firefighters and as bank tellers and clerks. In addition, women would also support the military effort by being nurses caring for the wounded soldiers, or as drivers driving ambulances and being cooks. Additionally, many served in the three armed forces which were the army, navy and air such as the Women’s Royal Air Force Service. Furthermore, female factory workers worked in textile production but many also moved to metal working in factories, creating war material such as making military weapons, ammunitions and equipment. The high demand for weapons resulted in the munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918. As a result, women who worked in the munitions factory, suffered from ‘canaries’ because that had to handle TNT which caused their skin to turn yellow. The new job opportunities opened up for women in civil service went up by 1751%, in transport it went up by 544%, in metal it went up by 376% and in chemical it went up by 160%. Over the course of the war, 200,000 women took up jobs in governmental departments. 500,000 women took up clerical positions in private offices. 250,000 women worked on in agricultural positions and 700,000 women took up post in the munitions industry, which was dangerous work. And more women did hard heavy work such as building ships and furnace stoking. By January 1918, the women employed rose from 3.2 million to 5 million.
During World War One women were not paid equally compared to men because they thought that women would not produce as much output as men. But it was proven that after women took over men’s jobs they performed more efficiently. However, this did not change the government’s perception that women would be less productive than men. Even though, the union guaranteed that if women worked the same job as men that they will be paid the same amount. This change was only during the war time. After World War One ended, soldiers came back and took back their jobs. Although the opportunity for women to work was only temporary during the war, it gave women a voice to demand for equal pay and equal treatment at work. Women went on strike because of those unfair treatments of women who did the same job as men and even excel in many of the jobs. In 1919, The Sex Disqualification Act of 1919 made it an offence to discriminate female workers in any jobs.
World War One changed many lives for both men and women. Despite the sudden change that affected many women and men but the basic idea about gender remained the same throughout the war. Males were recognized to the nation as combats and women were recognized as mothers and their role as guardians of morality. Moreover, they were celebrated for their quiet heroism for keeping the house safe and in proper order whilst their men were away fighting. Some women were happy to take over the role of men’s jobs. But some faced challenges that made them want to return to pre-war conditions. Some men, found meaning in their military service and sacrifice while others were traumatized by the devastating injuries from poison gas, machine gun fires and artillery shells.
The war destroyed so many lives, and changed every aspect of their lives too. The aftermath of World War One helped women in many nations gained the right to vote. But being involved in politics was still limited. Returning men took back their jobs from women and women returned to their households chores. Women were also dressed differently compared to before the war. Many women had shorter hair and wearing shorter skirts, wore trousers which became fashionable. Furthermore, women could go out with men without a chaperone and wear makeup in public. Women could also smoke, and in 1919 female could be married and still hold their jobs. New form of communication between sexes was made possible and the concern about women’s domestic life and family remained the same.