As gatherings were held across the country today to mark what would have been the 160th birthday of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and the centenary year of the first women in the UK being given the right to vote, the organiser of the ‘Pankhurst Parties’ said it was time to practice what the activist preached.
‘Deeds Not Words’ was the motto of suffrage advocacy organisation The Women’s Social and Political Union, which Mrs Pankhurst founded - and Fleur Butler told those gathered at Leeds’s Pankhurst Party that action was still needed.
“We are not doing anywhere near enough,” she said. “And from today, with the idea of Emmeline Pankhurst as your role model, it’s no longer good enough to talk, it’s about ‘Deeds not Words’.”
She called for people to back the #AskHerToStand movement, started by non-political campaign group 50:50 Parliament, and to encourage women to come forward and take part in public life including as councillors, MPs, trustees, magistrates and mayors.
She added: “We need more voices, more female voices, in public life. No excuses modern day suffragettes, no more words, let’s do the deed and get women standing.”
When Mrs Pankhurst, who helped women win the right to vote through her lead of the suffragette movement, died in 1928, her family gave a legacy to the Conservative Women’s Organisation to lay a wreath in her honour to celebrate her life on her birthday, July 15.
This year, the organisation wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first women being given the right to vote through the 1918 Representation of the People Act, with the staging of 30 Pankhurst Parties around the UK, including Yorkshire locations - Leeds, Beverley and Northallerton, as well as in London.
The parties aimed to celebrate how far women have come, but to encourage more to stand for public office.
Despite one hundred years of women’s suffrage, the numbers of women in politics at all levels is still low. More than two thirds of MPs are men and in local government 70 per cent of councillors are men.
In Leeds, council leader Judith Blake, the authority’s first female leader, told those who attended: “I’m very conscious of my position as the first woman ever to lead Leeds City Council.
“I’m conscious of the fact that probably less than 20 per cent of council leaders across the country are women.
“And I’m also very conscious that we brought in a new layer of governance through metro mayors and not a single one of those positions has gone to a woman, which feels to me as though we’re starting to go backwards slightly.”
She paid tribute to the “extraordinary women” who put themselves on the line in the 19th and early 20th century and “refused to take no for an answer”.
“We know the sacrifices that those women made," she said.
“We know that women died for us to come together and have the right to vote now.
“It’s a very serious moment for us to reflect on their achievements as well as looking forward to the many things together we can achieve.”