5 things that didn't exist in 1955 | ActionAid UK

A lot can happen in half a century. Whether it's votes for women or the civil rights movement, activists have certainly changed the world since 1955. But the unfair and frankly outdated 1955 tax treaty between the UK and Malawi is still in effect. Here we look at five things that didn't exist in 1955 and how far we've come since.  ​

A mother from Katakwi, eastern Uganda, holds a sign campaigning against tax dodging as part of our Tax Power Campaign in February 2014. Tax pays for essential services like healthcare and education
A mother from Katakwi, eastern Uganda, holds a sign campaigning against tax dodging as part of our Tax Power Campaign in February 2014. Tax pays for essential services like healthcare and education.

1. The civil rights movement 

On 1 December 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. At this time, racial segregation was not just socially acceptable in the United States, but legal! This meant that black people had fewer rights than white people, were systematically discriminated against and even had to sit separately on buses.

As this particular bus filled up, Rosa was asked to leave her seat to make room for a white passenger. She refused and was later arrested.

Her act of civil disobedience became symbolic of the civil rights movement and helped to kick-start the events which led to the end of segregation and legal racism in the United States.  

Rosa Parks in a police station

2. Women's suffrage

In 1955 there were over 60 countries where women weren’t allowed to vote. Women’s suffrage movements across the world fought hard to ensure there was democratic equality across genders.

Though there is still lots of work to be done to further women's rights, the fight for political equality has come a long way since 1955.

And though the right to vote is still partially restricted in a few countries, out of 190 countries it's now just Vatican City that is the only country in the world where women can't vote at all.  

Suffragettes campaigning in London in the early 20th century.

3. A cure for polio

Until 1955, polio was one of the most terrifying public health problems in the world. There were regular epidemics of the disease that left many thousands of people paralysed, with many more dying. This affected people from all kinds of backgrounds, with high profile women like musician Joni Mitchell and artist Frida Kahlo suffering from the aggressive disease.

That was until American medical researcher, Jonas Salk, discovered and developed the first successful polio vaccine in 1955. 

This started a massive international push to eradicate the disease, and now there are few cases across the world. 

Tax and Polio vaccination

4. The Pill 

In 1955 the contraceptive pill wasn't yet widely available meaning that women had virtually no choice concerning their bodies and whether they wanted a child or not. 

It wasn't until 1961 that the birth control pill was made 'available to all' in the UK from the NHS. 

Now it's estimated that the pill is used by over 100 million women, and has had a remarkable impact on societies where it is available.

When women can control their own fertility, they are able to plan if and when to have children, and to choose to pursue education and career opportunities, and benefit from the financial independence this can bring. 

Tax and the Pill

5. Malawi

Malawi itself didn't actually exist in 1955. Established in 1907, the area now known as Malawi was under British colonial rule and called Nyasaland. 

Nyasaland was finally granted independence from British colonial rule in 1964 and was renamed Malawi.

Though no longer under British colonial rule. The tax treaty signed between the UK and Malawi, signed when it was called Nyasaland, is still in force. 

Nyasaland and tax

So how far have we come since 1955? Not far enough.

As you can see, a lot has changed for the better since 1955, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure a fairer and equal world. That includes making sure the international tax system works for everyone.  

A decades old treaty, originally signed between the UK and the colony of Nyasaland in 1955 remains in force with Malawi today. This treaty actively stops Malawi taxing money that UK companies take out of the country. 

That means that UK companies operating there can get away with paying hardly any tax – starving Malawi’s public services of the essential funding they need. Because of factors like childbirth, gender-based violence and societal norms around women’s role in providing unpaid care to support their families, it's women and girls who pay the highest price when public services are underfunded.

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