The streets of the capitals of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland filled with courage on Sunday, 11th June 2018.
People were marching, cheering, singing and rejoicing in the centenary of some women winning the right to vote in 1918 – and vowing to continue the struggle for true equality for all.
The thousands of banners, from cardboard placards to hand-stitched works of art that had taken months to create, repeated suffragette slogans such as ‘Deeds Not Words’, or made more contemporary calls to action such as on one banner, ‘A woman’s place is in the Boardroom’, or ‘Love Football, hate homophobia’.
One group chanted ‘Equal seats, equal voices’, as they marched under a banner calling for equal numbers of men and women in Parliament.
“What draws men and women together is stronger than the brutality and tyranny which drive them apart.”
11th June was chosen as it is the birthday of suffragist Millicent Fawcett, who was a leading light of the woman’s suffrage movement and formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897. It was the largest association of its kind and a precursor to the more famous and radical Suffragette movement led by the Pankhurst family. Fawcett declared as a rallying cry that, ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’.
The organisation, which Dame Millicent was president of until 1919, distanced itself from the militant activities of the suffragettes and pursued a campaign of non-violence to achieve their goals. Its tactics included peaceful demonstration and the lobbying of MPs and it stressed its membership consisted only of law-abiding suffragists. This was a crucial difference with the militant tactics of the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union.
Google has celebrated the 171st anniversary of her birth with its own Doodle, using green, white and red, which stood for Give Women Rights.
Dame Millicent, who was famed for her clear but expressive speaking voice and razor-sharp intellect, was recently honoured with the unveiling of a new statue in Parliament Square in London, on 24th April (main picture). The monument, created by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, was the first of a woman to be unveiled in the square and marked a century since MPs passed the Representation of the People Act which bestowed some women with the right to vote for the first time.
Millicent Fawcett believed in mobilising women from all backgrounds. She actively engaged working class women, appointed them as organisers and worked with trade unions. She said that she believed in a, ‘Grand freemasonry between different classes of women’.