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Dr Pankhurst on Women’s Rights

This week we were thrilled to welcome Dr Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, who explored one of the most pressing conversations of our time, offering a powerful and positive argument for the way forward.

The international development and women’s rights activist took to the stage in the theatre, packed with parents and pupils, to deliver an edifying, participatory talk: From Votes for Women to #MeToo. Reflecting on the sacrifices of previous generations, the interactive session was informed by findings from Dr Pankhurst’s new book, Deeds Not Words: the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now. Considering a range of thematic ideas – from politics and economics, to identity, culture and power – she asked the audience to consider how much women’s lives have (or haven’t) changed since the right to parliamentary vote was first granted to some women in the UK in 1918.

Providing statistics, quotes and anecdotes from around the world, she described a global journey of sisterhood and solidarity and of changing social norms – but also a world of perpetuating divisions, riddled with contradictions and dichotomies.

Her talk sparked interesting conversations across generations, as she encouraged parents and pupils to reflect on what they might do, both individually and collectively – from calling out everyday sexism, to rallying against photo-shopped perfection. Some of our youngest Junior School pupils made pleas for gender-neutral toys and protested against the ‘pinkification’ of fashion, while parents shared their personal stories of addressing continued imbalances in the world of work.

Dr Pankhurst also shared stories of how the suffragette movement brought women together for the first time in history – across age, religion and class – women who championed their agenda with real passion, as well as humour and panache. To continue her family legacy, Dr Pankhurst described the various ways she strives to make suffrage heritage relevant to people today – from her involvement in the film Suffragette, starring South Hampstead alumna Helena Bonham Carter, to leading CARE International’s annual #March4Women ahead of International Women’s Day in London.

Many thanks to our Junior School PTA for organising the event – a thought-provoking evening that provided the chance to reflect upon and consider how we can all assert ourselves and continue to press for progress.

As part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, founded in 1872 by four pioneering women, South Hampstead has a long legacy of promoting equality and championing educational opportunities for girls. Former Headmistress Miss Benton (1886 to 1918) was a vociferous campaigner for women’s rights – a loyal suffragist who was sympathetic to the suffragette actions of her staff. Today, South Hampstead remains a progressive, outward-looking school. There are no stereotypes or factory settings here – Mathematics is the most popular A Level, football is one of our key sports, many go on to become scientists and engineers. This is a place where girls are encouraged to stand up for what they believe in from the earliest years – there is a thriving Feminist Society, and campaigners, activists and a diverse range of trailblazers regularly come in to inspire the girls, galvanising them to go on to make their mark on the world.   

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