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Great-granddaughter of leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to hold talk on women’s rights

PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:12 30 May 2018

Emmeline Pankhurst. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

Emmeline Pankhurst. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Children have been learning about the Suffragettes and everything they did to fight for women’s right to vote at school for decades.

Women's rights activist and great-granddaughter and granddaughter to Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst. Picture: Virginie NaudillonWomen's rights activist and great-granddaughter and granddaughter to Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst. Picture: Virginie Naudillon

Finding out about the bravery they showed, the persistence and the leadership, has gone on to inspire millions of young women to do things differently and continue to do so today.

Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia, were two of the heroes of the Suffragette story, leading the British movement which helped women across the country win the vote in 1918.

So it is safe to say that being able to speak to Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, was a moment to remember.

And you can speak to her yourself as the modern day women’s rights activist will be holding a talk about her new book Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now, at Sir James Hawkey Hall, Broomhill Road, Woodford, on next Monday.

She said: “It’s the engagement of people which I like, it is that sense of frustration with the rate of change that a lot of people are experiencing.

“There are many people who are sleep walking through all of this but there are many, particularly young people, who are totally engaged and that’s what I like to see during these talks.”

Rewind back to more than 100 years ago and Helen’s great-grandmother Emmeline Pankhurst helped found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in October 1903.

These women were the very first to be christened suffragettes.

WSPU members became notorious for their demonstrations, window smashing, and arson and hunger strikes to get British politicians to stop and listen to what they had to say.

Emmeline’s daughters Sylvia and Christabel were also both active members of the cause but in 1913 Sylvia decided to leave the WSPU and set up her own organisation called the Workers’ Socialist Federation.

Helen only started to became more engaged with her family’s history after speaking with other people but it wasn’t long before began following in their footsteps.

“I would tell people my surname and they would pause to ask questions and I would go onto tell them about my great-grandmother and grandmother and we’d delve into a whole conversation about what they did”, she said.

“I studied economics and international issues and saw women bearing the brunt of it and started to realise I had found a lot more of a voice and using my surname wouldn’t have been enough, my work in itself has got people to listen.”

In her new book, Helen analyses the progress that has been made so far in the battle for equality, speaking a lot about sexual violence and believes the ongoing Me Too movement needs to be persistent to have any impact on the future.

Helen said: “The fundamental issue keeping women constrained is violence and sexualisation.

“Women become leaders and whether through sexual comments or trolling on Twitter, she is then put back in her place.

“Women at work in certain types of jobs, she is criticised because they are not roles for women and she is put back in her place.

“I would say overall we have made progress but this fear of violence, fear of criticism, is stopping progression.

“[Referring to campaigns like Me Too] We have had moments like this in the past but it is important that we keep going and we sustain these talks and movements beyond 2018.

“They [Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst] would be really happy to see this level of engagement and “fed upness” of this rate of change and would encourage everyone to keep it going.

“I would like every single person to take a look at their lives and the lives of those around them and to stop sleep walking.

“And not just to fight what directly affects us but for all of those who feel they don’t have enough of a voice and not give up.”

Helen Pankhurst will be at Sir James Hawkey Hall on Monday, June 4, from 7-10pm.

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