‘Once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible’ – Emmeline Pankhurst
One hundred years ago, in a country ravaged by the First World War, a reformation began. On the 6th February 1918, after a campaign spanning 85 years, women over 30 were included on the UK electorate for the first time – beginning a century of increasing gender equality, from the Abortion Law Reform Bill, to The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts.
Adding 8.5 million women to the electorate that year – 43% of its total – February 1918 marked a new era for women in the UK. One hundred years later, it would seem that we are now on the cusp of another. From Carrie Gracie’s gender pay gap dispute with the BBC, to Rose McGowan’s outing of Harvey Weinstein, even the past year has seen women increasingly ensuring that their voices are heard. Such vital conversations are sculpting a zeitgeist of 21st Century gender equality, where society is no longer willing to accept sexism; be it in the form of microaggressions, glass ceilings, or ‘beach body ready’ expectations.
Women continue to fight the battles of the suffragettes every day. In the charity sector, where more than two-thirds of the workforce are women, men continue to dominate leadership roles. In the UK’s top fundraising charities by income, for example, just 30% have female chief executives, and 36% of Trustees are women.
Yet there are many inspiring and talented women in the voluntary sector, and in this week of celebrating female bravery and social progress, there is no better time to sum up some of my favourites.
- Lizzi Hollis: a Corporate Fundraiser with feminist credentials, Lizzi was a Rising Star at the Institute of Fundraising Convention in 2016, and founded Charity Women, an action group fighting for gender equality in the charity sector. Welcoming all genders, it strives for better leadership, workplace culture, confidence and recognition.
- Dame Jenni Murray OBE: the president of the Fawcett Society – the leading charity in the UK campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights – Jenni acts as a vital ambassador for its work in the public sphere. Jenni is a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, the author of several books, and a long-time advocate of gender equality and advancing women’s rights.
- Zanib Salbi: is an Iraqi-American humanitarian who founded (at just 23 years old) the humanitarian charity Women for Women International, which provides practical and moral support to female survivors of war. Zanib saw that in modern conflict, it is often more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier. Her organisation provides hundreds of thousands of marginalised and socially excluded women in warzones with the tools to help them rebuild their lives, and their future. In 2012, she won the Barclays Women of the Year Award.
The suffragist Millicent Fawcett once said that ‘courage calls to courage everywhere, and its voice cannot be denied’. The brave acts of women over the past century – and before – prove that this very voice of courage can be the catalyst for immeasurable change. Though we still have hurdles to traverse, the examples of such inspiring women – and many others whose voices may never be truly heard – show how far we can go, and how much of a fundamental difference can be made in society.
Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
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Photos are author’s own, taken at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.