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Suffrage centenary volunteers – this award is for all of you

Headshot of woman in spectacles
Keela Shackell-Smith, Gender Policy Advisor, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Back in February, I wrote a blog to share our plans for celebrating the Suffrage Centenary within the Civil and Public Service. Our aim is to focus on the past, present and future. We look to the past and the history of the women’s suffrage movement and the history of women in public service. We look at where we are today, and we look ahead to what else we need to do regarding gender equality in the workplace.

Winning the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Award for Championing Gender Equality means so much to everyone involved this year. We collected the award on behalf of so many volunteers. We wish that we could have all been on stage to collect the award, but our number exceeds the capacity of the room!

The Suffrage Centenary Volunteer Team never cease to amaze me. So, if you have taken part in our workshop with Helen Pankhurst, our launch event, the UK Suffrage Flag Relay, the Global Suffrage Flag Relay, 100 years 100 women blogs, our video of the history of women in the Civil Service, Civil Service Live or any of the department/ agency local events on suffrage… this award is for you!

Group of award winners at the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Awards
Some of the Suffrage Centenary Volunteer Team with their award and (right) award presenter Melanie Dawes, Civil Service Gender Champion


Grave of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison
The grave of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison

At our launch event, we started the Suffrage Flag Relay, led by Ellie Binks who wrote an excellent blog to celebrate the half-way stage of the relay. It has gone from strength to strength. It is now going down the East coast. Locations over the next couple of months include Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Peterborough, Huntingdon, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Hemel Hempstead, ending at our final event in London on 13 December. A recent stop I was especially pleased about was the grave of Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth, Northumberland.

Alongside the UK Suffrage Flag Relay, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development are running an incredible Global Suffrage Flag Relay. Frances Wood from the FCO is the mastermind, with Sir Simon McDonald, Joanna Roper and Matthew Rycroft taking the flag with them to locations across the world. The reach of this relay is phenomenal.

Tweet from Sir Simon McDonald on the Suffrage Flag relay reaching Hong Kong
Tweet from Sir Simon McDonald

100 stories

We’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction to our blogs. The 100 years, 100 women blog has now reached our target of collecting 100 stories. The aim was to celebrate the diversity of women in public service. Every blog talks about their past and the roles of mothers and grandmothers. Bloggers then talk about their current role, and what they would do if they had a magic wand to solve gender equality in the society.

A recent blog that made me well up was by Charlotte Dring, fellow winner of a Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion award, who talked beautifully about her mother’s legacy and grief.

We have recently published here on YouTube our video celebrating 100 years of women in the Civil Service – again, set up and produced by Suffrage Centenary volunteers. It’s amazing to think back to the time when women couldn’t work in the Civil Service because of the marriage bar, or couldn’t be recruited to the higher roles, or what it must have felt like to be the sole female Permanent Secretary.

Our final event

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'The 14 December will be the centenary of the first ever vote to include some women and all men. We will be hosting a final event during that week to celebrate the end of the campaign, and welcome the suffrage flag back to London. The event will focus on the future and accelerating efforts to improve gender equality in the workplace.

The campaign has been a real team effort, across government departments and agencies, and across the country. We cannot thank our volunteers enough.

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  1. Comment by Em posted on

    It's taken 100 years for suffragists and suffragettes to recognised for their brave, pioneering, campaigning & yet in all that time - by my reckoning – aside from Royals & Monarchs plus the odd Saint, not one woman has a major stadium named for them in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, none in Northern Ireland i.e. the Six Counties administered from Stormont, then one in the Republic of Ireland.

    That one? The one woman missing from the story of universal suffrage, at least from the point of view of shared History of Great Britain and Ireland (de facto 1918, de jure 1922, revised 1937, 1948, 1998): Countess Constance Markievicz.

    We hear that fine anthem of Ethel Smyth (truly a remarkable woman), “The March of the Women” once in a blue moon (sadly, for it is truly an incredible tune), yet we hear the names of great Stadia such as St James Park, Newcastle United; the Emirates, Arsenal; Anfield, Liverpool etc. many, many times in a calendar year.

    Whilst Sligo GAA aren’t the giants of Dublin, Kerry or Tyrone, the Board felt it was a worthy recognition of a national hero – who whilst complicated for a British Government e.g. Her part in the 1916 Easter Rising – so where are the stadia named for great British and Commonwealth (and that may indeed include Irish citizens given shared History) women e.g. Ellen Wilkinson, Jarrow MP & Education Secretary, Dame Katherine Grainger, multi-medal Olympian, one of the many Dames of the Arts and Cultural World: After all Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (who gave us “World in Union”) is surely one that celebrates both Britain and our Commonwealth?

    Nb. I'm not a Sligo GAA fan either.

  2. Comment by Diane Williams posted on

    True #GirlPower Well done.
    My 97 years young Aunt Jo died last year and one of the books she was most proud of was The life of Emily Wilding Davison which I now have and enjoy reading inspirational lines from.
    My Aunt was my most inspirational person and I could and should literally write a book on her!