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Review: Tonbridge Deeds and Words Festival hears from Suffragettes leader Emmeline Pankhurst's great-granddaughter

By What's On reporter

How far have we come since women won the vote 100 years ago?

Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of the famous Suffragettes leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, posed this, among other questions, to the audience at the EM Forster Theatre in Tonbridge on Friday.

Her 45-minute speech, part of the first Deeds and Words festival, was split into three parts: the first exploring the monumental work of the Suffragettes, the second questioning to what extent equality has been achieved and lastly, what needs to be done to move forward.

Helen Pankhurst spoke at the Deeds and Words Festival in Tonbridge
Helen Pankhurst spoke at the Deeds and Words Festival in Tonbridge

"The Suffragettes transformed women's sense of self and society's sense of women," she told the audience, going on to explain that for change to occur they had needed two things - agency and change of social norms. She said that ethos established by the Suffragettes, was still as relevant today.

Encouraging questions from the audience, she was confronted with one which posed the idea that the Suffragettes' history has been 'sanitised' and that there had been no excuse for the violence used during their protests.

Unfazed, she calmly - but firmly - explained that the women who were fighting for something so important had tried peaceful, democratic protest, but there was a limit to their patience.

"We need to allow women that agency to say enough is enough," she said, to applause. "If the Suffragettes have been sanitised then so has Mandela, Luther King, Churchill. And anyway, the state was as terroristic as the women."

Emmeline Pankhurst.
Emmeline Pankhurst.

She also explored some of the current issues facing women such as social media, the gender pay gap and domestic violence.

"There is still so much that needs to be done," she said, adding that she felt the media created narrow definitions of what women look like and their presence tends to be either trivialised or sexualised. She said she believed social media did not just misrepresent women visually, but provided a platform for women to be abused.

She said: "We need to stop seeing woman as relational. What do you ask a woman about when you meet her? About her husband, her children. A man? About his career.

"Women are viewed as less of an individual and more as a support to others, and this leads to a loss of identity. We all need to be much braver, to speak up and stand against society. The world is poised."

The talk seemed to whiz by, and I was left feeling empowered by my femininity and excited about what the future has to hold. Helen really has inherited her ancestors' ability to inspire others. The Suffragette's legacy lives on.

The Deeds and Words Festival was set up as part of this year's celebrations marking the centenary of women winning the vote.

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