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Suffragettes 100: From the council - Suffragette movement just the beginning

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 February 2018

Archant

Every year at Camden School for Girls we would sit in a classroom and put together white, yellow and purple posies for the schools Founder’s Day.

These were the colours of the National Women’s Party, the colours that would tell the world “Here come the suffragettes.”

As I grew into my teens the ritual began to mean more to me. We learnt about the women’s suffrage movement and the woman who founded our school. I talk a lot about the radical history and rebellious spirit of our borough and Frances Mary Buss was the ultimate rebel. She refused to accept that woman didn’t deserve the same opportunities as men. She founded Camden School for Girls to make education affordable and was the first woman to be called a headmistress.

We interpreted our feminist education in our own teenage way and I remember several mini-skirt protests. When I was at school it felt like we were invincible. We were young women who were ready to take on the world and the idea anyone would hold us back was laughable.

My friends and I have found that every year we see the barriers more clearly. I remember getting to university and coming up against misogyny for the first time. I met men who shouted women down, thought it was funny to chant ‘whore’ when a women passed them and whose idea of a fun club game can only be described as sexual assault.

In the world of work and politics it is subtler still. For all the power my education gave me it didn’t prepare me for how unsettling it can be to the status quo when women act outside gender norms. My friends are ambitious, outspoken and challenging and we’ve all experienced how uncomfortable that can make people.

There have been too many times to count where I have walked into a room full of men who own the space with a couple of women sitting on the sidelines holding a clipboard and felt diminished. It’s in those moments that the spirit of Frances Mary Buss gives me a rough shove and pushes me to sit on the table and be the first to speak.

As far as we have come, it feels like the work has only just begun. Just a couple of weeks ago we learnt that powerful men felt it was acceptable to gather at an all-male event and objectify female staff who’d had their underwear dictated to them in the name of charity.

One woman in four experiences domestic violence in her life time and two women are killed each week by a former or current partner in England and Wales. According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of six and 17 are out of school. Not to mention the questioning and abuse our trans-sisters experience. They all need our action and our solidarity.

Our borough has been home to women who have been disrupters and rebels from Mary Wollstonecraft to the Pankhursts who have made the world a better place for those that came after them.

We have an obligation this year, whatever our gender, to reclaim that spirit, put on our suffragette colours and pick up the baton.

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