People and Places
One hundred years and counting... Women and the future
One hundred years ago women were challenging the male dominated society in which they lived in and went to great lengths to give women a voice. The lengths that they endured have become the foundations of the platform that we now have today. As women continue to strive for equal rights through endless campaigning, how well are we really doing?
This year 2018 marks the centenary of women’s suffrage and as a tribute to this occasion an extremely moving exhibition has been mounted on the ground of New Street Railway Station in Birmingham. The British artist Helen Marshall has used this great milestone to feature the Suffragette Hilda Burkitt in the most outstanding way. The image of Hilda Burkitt was created using 2724 faces of real 'inspiring' women living in the local area and from different eras. The Suffragette who was born in the town of Wolverhampton, close to Birmingham, fought along side her fellow women for the right to vote in a general election. Imprisoned for throwing a stone at the carriage of the Prime Minister, Hilda Burkitt was forcibly fed 292 times whilst on hunger strike in prison. The campaigns did have a positive outcome and women over the age of 30 were given the opportunity to have their say with a valid vote. It was at least a start.
The exhibition has ignited emotions within women and it brings home the realisation that there is still much work to be done...
Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst of the WSPU, c. 1908
As I stood staring at the installation from the first floor, it was impossible to ignore the comments and remarks of both men and women standing close to me. It became apparent after speaking with many of them that not only was Hilda Burkitt not known but more so, her actions and those of all Suffragettes was not really understood. Has our education system failed to realise the importance of such events or have women become too complacent and accepting of the way life is? Perhaps there are some truths in this which has led to the birth of movements such as #MeToo... The Fawcett Society, UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights and have been advancing women’s equality since 1866 when at just 19, Millicent Fawcett collected signatures on a petition for women’s votes. She went on to lead the constitutional suffrage campaign and made this cause her lifetime’s work, securing equal voting rights 62 years later.
It must have seemed impossible all those years ago for the Suffragettes to have imagined that as a result of their sacrifice and battles the UK would have its second female Prime Minister. Only 32% of MPs in the UK parliament are women, so the work for better representation in parliament also goes on.
The celebrations continue as we also mark 100 years since women entered the police force in London, with the 'top job' of Police Commissioner, being held by a woman.
Whatever the politics or career choice, these women are role models who have a strong voice able to have a great impact, to encourage women to step out and up in order to demonstrate their capabilities as equals in society. The opportunities are available and women are seizing them.
Suffragette is a film starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Whishaw and charts the story of those who risked their lives and liberties to secure the vote for women. It also explores the friendships that existed between women across the social class divide.