Emmeline Pankhurst claimed to be born on 14th July 1858, although records show it was the 15th. And I’m celebrating her birthday this year for one main reason.
To me she represents a person who saw the unfairness of society and was utterly determined to ensure that, in supporting and fighting for the female suffrage movement, change began to happen.
As leader of the militant group, the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU), she was one of many who helped further the cause of female suffrage. Those supporting votes for women formed a highly co-ordinated mass movement of national and local organisations, both militant and constitutional, to push for change.
Women had been allowed to stand for office in the UK since 1918, with a few women also able to vote, but the fundamental change allowing everyone to vote did not happen for another ten years. Sadly she died just one month before the Representation of the People Act was passed in July 1928. This unlocked the door for all women over the age of 21 to vote.
Although Emmeline Pankhurst’s name is synonymous with women’s suffrage, the network was arguably more important. It had a core focus of the change it wanted to see in society and doggedly went after it, ensuring activity at all levels. Despite the odds being stacked against them. According to the Home Office records stored in the National Archive 1,224 women and 108 men were imprisoned for offences committed during the struggles, mostly in London, but then increasingly across the towns and cities of the UK between 1906 -1914.
The suffragettes knew that those in power had a vested interest and were not just going to cave in to give them what they wanted. At the time the prevailing attitude was that ‘men knew best’ how to govern, how to run the country and keep order. If women were to get the vote it had to be a long running campaign with impact at grassroots level, at municipal and city levels, in corporation boardrooms and finally in the corridors of Government. By targeting every single aspect and structure within the UK they could and did make the change they wanted happen.
And this is just what we need to do today. We cannot expect major change to happen because companies or the Government will do it – they won’t.
We all know that people are equal, should be treated equally and have as much opportunity to live fulfilling lives as possible. We know that the planet is on a dangerous path to destruction. We know that organisations and countries do best if there is a balance of genders in the boardrooms, in the workplaces, in organisations as well as in government. Look at what the female led, collaborative governments of Taiwan and New Zealand have manage to achieve around Covid-19 cases – infinitely less deaths per million of population than the male populist-style leadership of the UK, US and Brazil.
So what do you do to effect the change you want? What do I do? Steps can be small, but determined. Call out those who don’t walk the walk. Talking the talk truly is not enough to make shit happen. I raise sustainability at every single meeting with every single client, looking at their output as well as their supply chain. Value does not have to be found in using virgin, unsustainable raw materials. I ask why their workforce isn’t more diverse across the board, helping them with steps towards improvement. This might take the form of a ‘grow your own’ opportunity for new entrants into the business – a thoughtfully devised, supported training scheme bring young, disadvantaged teens in to learn the business from the bottom up. Or an outreach to help foster creative practice in their local, multi-cultural community.
And what do I do in my home? Recycling, upcycling, growing food, not buying things in plastic where possible, walking, cycling, limiting my flights to one short-haul a year, one long-haul every two years.
I recognise that change has to happen and be targeted at every level in society to really take hold and become effective. So yes, do what you can personally but also ensure you are building those networks, push for those local and municipal transformations, ask questions of/find solutions for the organisations you support and work with. Demand of government they make the big shifts to society you want. And as the suffrage movement showed us over 100 years ago – if we want it badly enough, we can make these revolutions happen.
To quote from a 1913 speech by Emmeline Pankhurst:
‘What can we do now but carry on this fight ourselves? And I want you, not to see these as isolated acts of hysterical women, but to see that it is being carried out on a plan and that it is being carried out with a definite intention and a purpose.’
Thank you, Emmeline, and all who participated in the suffrage movement alongside you. You formed a blueprint.
About the author
Erica Wolfe-Murray works across the creative, cultural and tech sector helping companies to innovate through imaginative use of their intellectual assets/IP. Referred to by Forbes.com as ‘a leading innovation and business expert’, she is the author of ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’, finalist in the Business Book Awards 2020. It’s full of easy-to-use advice on innovative ways to grow your business and is available from Foyles, Amazon and all other good bookshops.
WeAreTheCity covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in business, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.