Last Sunday I didn’t go to Processions, the suffragette march in London.
I had intended to go and I had even tried to persuade my mum but her walking group, who are all in their 80s, had an event on and she wanted to join them. So I found myself at another kind of all woman event entirely, the Race For Life in Enfield. One of their group died last year and left a large amount of money to Cancer Research and they wanted to honour her. Before the race kicked off a young man from Cancer Research gave a lovely speech to remember a woman who in many ways was ahead of her time, with a high powered career that started in the 1960s – not an easy time for equality.
In such a poignant year I would have loved to be in London recreating the suffragette flag while marching with women of all ages. Since 1918 so much has changed and yet, when I began my career in 1985, so little had changed. My first job they asked me why they should give me a job because I was only going to go off and have babies!
I have always been an ardent feminist so I was particularly excited when an email from Helen Pankhurst arrived in my in-box in 2016. Helen is a renowned academic and women’s rights activist as well as being Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter. She was writing a book about the story of women’s rights over the last 100 years, which was to be published in 2018, and she wanted to include some information about knitting groups. Helen was also looking to include women’s voices in her book and their experiences.
As you can imagine, to see the name Pankhurst in your inbox is a bit of a surreal moment. After I had calmed down I sent her some observations from my life.
About a year later she got back in touch to say the book was about to be printed and two quotes from me were to be included, so could I check them. This time I definitely had an attack of the vapours. Not only had I now corresponded with Helen Pankhurst but I was being included in her book – Squeeeeee!
I thought the book was due to come out in August but have only just found out it was published earlier this year. It is an extraordinary work, tackling all spheres of life and scoring them according to how much women’s rights have progressed. But it is also crammed with facts and figures that are just fascinating. For example between 1866 and 1918 there were 16,000 petitions received by parliament concerning a woman’s right to vote. That’s around 300 each year. Aren’t we a determined bunch?
Since 1970 the gender pay gap has more than halved, which is a big change, but this is such a complicated subject I won’t go in to it now, suffice to say there is more to do. In 1920 28% of degree students were women ( I was surprised it was that high) and 56% by 2011. After the end of the first world war 775,000 women left formal employment as the men returned. Women who tried to keep their job were given a very hard time.
I could go on but everyone
should must read this book so no more spoilers from me. I found it eye-opening, enlightening, inspiring and depressing in equal measure. I am hugely proud and honoured to have been able to use my voice in these pages. Thank you, Helen.
Oh and there is another march I will definitely be going to on 13th July – bring your pots, pans and pussy hats to Bring The Noise organised by Women’s March London. See you there.