He­len Pankhurst is con­tin­u­ing the fight for equal­ity that was started by her great-grand­mother

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - The Gh Report -

Peo­ple of­ten ask me what it feels like to be a Pankhurst, to have such a fa­mous name. The an­swer is proud. Proud to be con­nected to a fam­ily syn­ony­mous with women’s rights. My great-grand­mother was Em­me­line Pankhurst, who to­gether with close friends and her daugh­ters, in­clud­ing my grand­mother Sylvia, founded the Women’s So­cial and Po­lit­i­cal Union in 1903. This be­came known as the suf­fragette move­ment.

Em­me­line de­cided that tra­di­tional meth­ods of pe­ti­tion­ing were not get­ting trac­tion and that women needed to come to­gether to de­mand the vote. Ban­ners with the slo­gan ‘Votes for Women’ started to be un­furled wher­ever and when­ever pos­si­ble. The slo­gan be­came ‘Deeds Not Words’, de­mand­ing ac­tion rather than re­peat­edly bro­ken prom­ises from the Gov­ern­ment, and also calling for di­rect ac­tion from the suf­fragettes them­selves.

The com­mit­ment of the suf­fragettes was tested with at least a thou­sand go­ing to prison, many be­ing force-fed, and a few giv­ing up their lives for the cause. In 1918, the Gov­ern­ment caved in and some women were granted the vote. But it was not un­til 1928 that it was granted equally with men.

How­ever, that strug­gle was not the end of the story. The suf­frage cam­paign has since been termed the first wave of fem­i­nism. There fol­lowed a se­cond one, start­ing in the 1960s, which in­cluded re­sist­ing the at­tempts to take back some of the eco­nomic rights that women had gained dur­ing the wars. The third wave, as­so­ci­ated with the 1990s, em­pha­sised the need for sex­ual lib­er­a­tion. There is a fourth wave now, framed around un­der­stand­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of women due to sex­u­al­ity, race, reli­gions and class. It is also about the op­por­tu­ni­ties and threats of the dig­i­tal age.

A cen­tury on from that first step to­wards equal­ity, how far have we come? It is clear we have moved on, but the jour­ney has been slow and ar­du­ous, with many set­backs along the way. We still don’t have enough women in Par­lia­ment, with sim­i­lar gaps in most in­sti­tu­tions of power; the pay gap is re­duc­ing but at a pace that sug­gests it won’t be done away with un­til 2069. Most women and girls con­tinue to face sex­ual ha­rass­ment in one form or an­other, and glob­ally, one in three women has ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal or sex­ual vi­o­lence.

We need to speed things up, rather than wait for an­other hun­dred years. I don’t ad­vo­cate mil­i­tancy. But we can look back and see the im­por­tance of link­ing in­di­vid­ual ac­tions of protest in ways that change so­cial at­ti­tudes as well as the law. I also be­lieve we could take the ca­ma­raderie, clever tar­get­ing and PR savvi­ness of the suf­fragettes. Above all, we need their gutsy de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­no­va­tive think­ing.

My ap­peal is to de­mand more of so­ci­ety and its in­sti­tu­tions. In ev­ery sphere of life women and men can make a dif­fer­ence by de­mand­ing bet­ter of them­selves, their fam­i­lies, the in­sti­tu­tions they work in and those that rep­re­sent them. Deeds Not Words is the ti­tle of a book I have just writ­ten to mark the cen­te­nary. I co-opted the slo­gan be­cause the anal­y­sis shows that we take our ex­ist­ing rights for granted at our peril and we still have a long jour­ney ahead. Our grand­moth­ers and great-grand­moth­ers fought to get us this far. It’s up to us now.

March­ing shoul­der to shoul­der re­mains one of the most pow­er­ful ways to call for change. That’s why I lead CARE In­ter­na­tional’s #March4­women in Lon­don. This year it’s hap­pen­ing on Sun­day 4 March. Ev­ery­body is wel­come. Please join me.

I feel very proud to be a Pankhurst

Ar­rested for shout­ing

On the march: fight­ing for the right to vote

She died for women: The Suf­fragette

mag­a­zine pays trib­ute to Emily Wild­ing Dav­i­son

ABOVE No-vote no-tax protest BE­LOW Sis­ter­hood: women from all walks of life came to­gether

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