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Starting a conversation on gender equality – #FollowTheFlag

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Diversity and inclusion
Head shot of Eleanor Binks
Eleanor Binks

Civil Service celebrations of the Centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 and some women gaining the right to vote have been in full swing since February.  

The 10-month campaign, led by Keela Shackell-Smith MBE (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) and an army of volunteers, includes a UK-wide Suffrage Flag Relay and a sister relay taking a Suffrage Flag around the world. As lead volunteer for the relay, I get to work with our amazing volunteers and hear about all of the relay hosts’ wonderful plans.

Global Flag Relay

Sir Simon McDonald (second right), Permanent Under Secretary of State at the FCO, led the Global Suffrage Flag Relay to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The Global Flag Relay, hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development, is being coordinated by Frances Wood (FCO). The flag has had an incredible year so far, with stops including Vietnam, Uganda, and Pakistan.

UK Suffrage Flag Relay

Melanie Dawes, Civil Service Gender Champion, took the Suffrage Flag Relay to ‘Women into Leadership’ in Cardiff

By the end of this year, a suffragette flag will have travelled around the UK and will have been taken on numerous marches, processions and trips by boat and plane. Locations include Northern Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, Sussex and everywhere in between, including each of the Centenary Cities.

The flag - 108 inches x 54 inches - has been turning heads wherever our wonderful volunteers have taken it!

This week marks the halfway point of the Suffrage Flag Relay (Week 22 of 44), nicely coinciding with National Democracy Week. Volunteers in Blackpool are hosting the flag this week before it moves on to the National Nuclear Laboratory at Sellafield next week.

Border Force’s Gender Equality Champion and colleagues hosted the flag at Heathrow and Gatwick airports

Planning for the relay started in autumn 2017 with a large map of the UK laid out on my living room floor and a pack of post-it notes. Having written out to members of the Cross-Government Women’s Network, the location of our first chunk of volunteers helped to shape the relay route. At first, I thought that we may have a couple of stops a month, but as interest in hosting the flag grew, I found myself buddying up departments and sharing out the flag across multiple stops per week.

The number of volunteers who came forward from across the Civil Service and wider public sector has been staggering, including from the police, local councils and the NHS. Without these volunteers, the relay simply wouldn’t be possible. In cities such as Manchester and Leeds, working groups have been planning events for weeks and months, with multiple departments joining forces to take their flag celebrations city wide.

Border Force proudly flew the flag from one of their patrol vessels in the Solent

There have been some terrific photo opportunities at local landmarks, but the relay is not just about the visual impact: it is also about starting a conversation. Each stop is an opportunity to hold discussions, workshops and events about gender equality, what has been achieved and what is still to do. The relay also offers a powerful reminder about the importance of voting.

Location hosts are given a toolkit of resources to stimulate discussion around our theme ‘Past, Present and Future’. The resources can be used for standalone events by organisations looking to celebrate the centenary year.  

Keeping up with the relay

The Met Office hosted the Suffrage Flag Relay in Exeter

With the Suffrage Flag Relay moving on to a new stop (sometimes more than one) each week, it is impossible to share all of the fabulous photos and events in a blog post. There’s no need to miss out on all the action though. You can follow the flag every step of the way on Twitter: @SuffrageFlag is the account to follow, and #SuffrageFlagRelay and #FollowTheFlag are the hashtags to use to get involved.

While you’re here

Evie, the Cabinet Office cat, is very invested in the flag relay

The Suffrage Flag Relay is just one of many ways that the Civil Service is celebrating the centenary. Siobhan Sherry (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) is running a year-long project, bringing together 100 blogs from 100 Women in Public Life. Each blog makes for a fascinating read. A word of warning from someone who looks forward to each new blog being published: some of them are real tear-jerkers and they all leave you with something to think about.

Thank you

Ellie Binks ran the London Marathon in April, carrying the Suffrage Flag over the finish line

When I volunteered to lead the flag relay, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, but I knew I wanted to contribute to this important centenary year and make sure that the Civil Service celebrations take place across the UK. The relay runs on the power of volunteers and I can’t thank them enough.

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  1. Comment by anita posted on

    I feel so ignorant as I didn't know about these men!! why haven't we celebrated this?? I think its terrible we haven't celebrated this. Perhaps we need to start a campaign? I also will raise a glass to them and to our wonderful suffragettes.

  2. Comment by Mark J posted on

    It was also one hundred years ago that many working class men, who owned no land, or were unable to pay high rents, first got the vote. In fact, in 1910 only 60% of British men had a vote. Hundreds of thousands of these poor, disenfranchised men fought and died in the trenches of WW1. There seems to be no celebration of these men, but I raise my glass to them, as well as to the women who were deserving of their right to vote.

  3. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you for a great blog. A great way to show how inclusive the UK is and in particular in respect of equality for women.