Commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Guest blog by Erandi Barrera Moreno, Secretary of feminist society Women Talk Back!

The Mirabal sisters

On this day in 1960, three sisters – Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal – were assassinated in the Dominican Republic. They had been involved in clandestine activities against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the country’s president at the time, who ordered their murder. In honour of the sisters, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1999.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. According to the UN, one in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2017; while only one out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances.

To commemorate this sombre occasion, the University’s Women Talk Back! feminist society will host campaigners who have dedicated their lives to ending male violence against women and girls at a public event on 25 November. ‘Feminist Campaigners Talk Back! at the University of Bristol’ invites both the University community and members of the public to listen to and engage with feminists activists as each speaker focuses on different aspects of the interconnected forms male violence against women and girls takes in our society.

At Women Talk Back!, we are insistent on the fact that ending violence against women and girls cannot be a single day event. Creating a world where women are free from violence permeates everything we do as a feminist student society. Throughout November and December, we are hosting workshops, events and writing articles to raise awareness in our community about this crucial issue.

UN Women is running its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign between 25 November and 10 December, Human Rights Day. The theme for this year is the urgent need to end the plight of rape.

Artwork for UN Women – Violence Against Women: Facts Everyone Should Know.

At Women Talk Back!, we stand in solidarity with all girls and women who have experienced male violence, including rape and intimate partner violence, today and every day.

In order to raise awareness about this issue, we decided to interview one of our sisters to explore our own experiences on this matter. Her name has been redacted to protect her privacy.

Sara and I met on a Thursday at a local coffee shop near the Bristol city centre. Through the windows, you could see people rushing after the rain started pouring during this Autumn afternoon. We had a lengthy discussion about male violence. She said she came across the term a couple of times as she was growing up, but that nobody really talked about it in her family or among her friends. Here’s her story:

“Come to think of it now, I had a cousin, though; Tammy. She was a promising student. All of a sudden she got married and dropped out of school. A few months later she was pregnant with her first child and that was it! She disappeared from our lives because she was a married woman now. One day when my nephew, Tammy’s son, was about two-years-old, they showed up at our house. It was nobody’s birthday, nor a holiday, nor any other ‘special’ occasion, so I was puzzled. She seemed to have just come randomly.

“My mom said Tammy and her son had come to stay with us for some time. I was quite content as I had missed having Tammy around, for she used to live near our house when she was studying. After two days I was beginning to settle with our new routine. I kissed Tammy and my nephew goodbye before I went to school. When I came back they were gone just as they had come, leaving no trace.

“The only thing my mom ever said was that ‘they had to go’. Time went by and it became apparent that her husband was abusive and that visit to our house was one of her attempts at escape.  I felt deeply sorry and powerless. I didn’t know what to do. When this happened, I was a child and didn’t fully understand. After that, I’ve only seen Tammy twice. But everyone in her immediate circle would say ‘if she really wanted to, she could leave’, implying she was stupid, or ‘mentally unwell’, even a sort of masochist.”

Please continue reading on the Women Talk Back! website.

New book features pioneering women from Bristol’s past

Author Jane Duffus. Credit: Jon Craig Photos

Author and alumna Jane Duffus (MA 2008) has just published the second volume of The Women Who Built Bristol, featuring 250 brand new stories of inspiring females who fought tooth and nail to shape our city and the wider world. Olympians rub shoulders with boot makers; suffragists stand beside grocers; scientists are as one with artists.

Here, Jane share the stories of some of the pioneering women with a link to the University of Bristol. Women from volume one are featured in a special blog for International Women’s Day.

 

 

ISOBEL POWELL, 1907-1995

While Isobel Artner was working in Paris, she met Professor Cecil Powell, who was a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. Isobel and Cecil soon fell in love and in 1932 she moved to Bristol to marry him and become his secretary at the University. She later became a microscope scanner in his team. Initially, Isobel was one of only a few microscope scanners (leading a team known as ‘Cecil’s Beauty Chorus’), who checked the plates which had been exposed to cosmic radiation. It was in this way that in 1946 Isobel became responsible for identifying one of the subatomic particles which led to her husband’s 1950 Nobel Prize.

MAY STAVELEY, 1863-1934

When Sir George Wills bought Goldney House in the 1920s as a men’s halls of residence, May Staveley nearly exploded with fury. She was the Tutor to Women Students at the University and the warden of the women’s halls of residence at Clifton Hill, just 16 feet away from Goldney Hall. The risks to her girls’ reputations by having young men sleeping so close by was more than May would stand for, so she threatened to resign. It was purely down to May that there even was a women’s halls of residence in Bristol. The site at Clifton Hill became available in 1909 and, with May’s help, a committee was formed to raise the funds to buy it as a women’s halls of residence.

Alumna Peggy Styles with a photo of Helen Wodehouse

HELEN WODEHOUSE, 1880-1964

In 1919, Helen Wodehouse came to Bristol where she was the first woman to hold the post of Professor of Education and Head of Department at the University of Bristol. She was also the first woman to hold any professorial chair here. Under her care, the University’s education department became one of the leading education departments in the UK. It is worth noting that, by the time of her death, Helen was still the only woman to have held a professorial chair at the University of Bristol.

Helen features in a series of portraits in the Wills Memorial Building, specially-commissioned to mark 100 years since the first women in Britain won the right to vote.


GERALDINE HODGSON, 1865-1937

Geraldine Hodgson became head of the women’s secondary teaching training department at Bristol University College in 1902. In 1911, she was among a group of female graduates who formed the Bristol branch of the British Federation of University Women, which campaigned to see women’s achievements in the workplace treated equally. Her shock dismissal from the University in 1916 appears to have been due to disagreements about salary. And she was justified because, in 1911, Geraldine’s annual salary was £200, while a Mr T Foster with the same job title at the same university in the same year was being paid £400, despite not even having her doctorate.

You can buy The Women Who Built Bristol books via Jane’s website

Towards a gender-balanced community

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

Delve into the historic records of any public institution and you’re likely to find a familiar pattern of gender inequality. Thankfully, recent trends show an encouraging move towards greater inclusivity.

While a great deal of work still remains to be done, and indeed underpins our commitment to redressing the balance across the University and the HE sector, it’s illuminating to look back so that in planning for the future, we’re both inspired and motivated to do better.

Professor Judith Squires holding a photo of Winifred Shapland – the first female Registrar of any British university.

You may have seen our recent Vote 100 campaign in which we honoured the lives of notable female figures who not only shaped the history of the University, but of the world. If you missed it, I invite you to take a look at this remarkable and long overdue celebration of activists, pioneers and researchers without whom, society would undoubtedly be lacking.

It’s a legacy that we’re determinedly building upon. In fact, Bristol has strong roots from which to grow – we were the first higher education institute in England to admit women on an equal basis to men and we’re one of the founder members of the Royal Society Athena SWAN Charter, which recognises the sector’s commitment to advancing and promoting women’s careers.

Senior female leaders gather to mark International Women’s Day 2019

I’m proud to be able to say that I am among a growing number of female appointees at the University of Bristol. Today, we make up over half (55%) of the University’s total workforce and women account for a third of the senior team.

This is testament to the work we’ve been doing to build a diverse and inclusive environment in which talented individuals from all backgrounds, heritages and gender are supported and promoted to thrive.

This week, as part of the celebrations for International Women’s Day, I attended the second launch event of our Women’s Mentoring Network through which we plan to extend the influence of our female workforce.

It’s heartening that more than 250 female members of staff have already signed up to be part of the Network. They will be instrumental to shaping the future of the project, which in the spirit of equal opportunity, we intend to open to men as well. In these early stages though, our focus is on developing a strong platform where individual peer support and group mentoring can support people’s ambitions and ensure that as a University, we’re providing the right opportunities.

Staff at the University gather with Registrar Lucinda Parr for International Women’s Day 2019

That means ensuring that everyone, of all backgrounds, has access to those opportunities, which is why we’re also piloting a Bristol version of the Aurora leadership development programme. Run by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the programme is open to all people who identify as a woman, and aims to enable more women to develop the skills they need to climb the proverbial ladder and so address the underrepresentation of women at senior levels in the HE sector.

I’m glad to say that the programme has attracted so much attention that we’ve decided to fund a parallel scheme to ensure that no-one misses out. Our Female Leadership Initiative serves the same purpose as the Aurora programme – and adds to the growing list of initiatives through which we’re actively driving for gender balance in the sector and across the world.

It’s initiatives like these that nurture talent and a strong sense of community, which demonstrate how much the momentum is building to change the professional landscape for the better.

Thanks to a strong legacy and the growing pool of talented and ambitious people in our midst, we’re making huge strides towards becoming a more gender balanced institution. By working together, and by adding our voice to those of millions of others around the world as part of International Women’s Day, we’ve every reason to believe that we can go even further.

The Women Who Built Bristol (University)

Guest blog by Jane Duffus (MA 2008), author of The Women Who Built Bristol, for International Women’s Day 2019

Jane Duffus. Credit Jon Craig Photos

When asked to share some stories of amazing university women who make up some of the 250 entries in my book The Women Who Built Bristol, I was spoiled for choice. Which is a great problem to have. So rather than share some of the better known stories (of women such as Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, registrar Winifred Shapland, or the university’s first female chair Helen Wodehouse), I’ve picked some women who are maybe a little more obscure… although no less magnificent.

Alongside Marian Pease and Emily Pakeman, Amy Bell was one of the first three women to earn a scholarship to the then-new University College, Bristol in 1876. Thanks to her university education, Amy went on to become a stockbroker. And while her sex made it impossible for her to work inside the London Stock Exchange, Amy set up an office close by and operated successfully from there.

Alongside Amy, was 17-year-old Marian Pease who, in the spring of 1876 had been due to sit the London University Women’s entrance exams… but an attack of scarlet fever got in the way. In compensation, her parents allowed her to apply for one of the three scholarships to Bristol. Describing her commute to the university, Marian wrote: “I left home a few minutes after eight o’clock carrying my heavy bag of books – there were no lockers there – walked across Durdham Down, met Amy Bell who came in a cab from Stoke Bishop and then we took the horse tram from the bottom of Blackboy Hill to the top of Park Street … The journey had its difficulties on dark, wet and windy winter mornings and afternoons.”

Marian later became Mistress of Method at the Day Training College on Berkeley Square. She took a keen interest in the girls she tutored and one wrote of her: “She was to us a new kind of person. Everything seemed turned upside-down as there unfolded before our astonished eyes a new and larger world of mind and spirit than any we could have imagined.”

Mary Paley Marshall. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Marshall Librarian.

Marian was inspired by Mary Paley Marshall, who was the first female lecturer at the University of Bristol in 1878 and co-founded the economics department with her fiancé Alfred Marshall; the progressive couple agreed to remove the word “obey” from their marriage vows to show their equality. Mary had already proved herself academically by being one of the first five students to study at the all-female Newnham College at Cambridge… although being a woman she was unable to graduate. However, this didn’t stop Newnham from later enlisting Mary as its first-ever female lecturer.

The Fry family were big players in Bristol owing to their successful chocolate factories, and Norah Fry was born into this dynasty. She went on to be one of the first female Cambridge scholars to graduate with the equivalent of a double first, and would become a founder member of the University of Bristol’s Council in 1909. However, Norah used her combined powers of wealth and education for good, and became a lifelong campaigner for children with disabilities and learning difficulties. The Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Bristol was established in 1988.

For more than 40 years, Dr Vicky Tryon cycled around Bristol doing her rounds. Vicky had been born in Bristol and attended the University of Bristol, where she became Woman President of the Union in 1919. However, she was far from a demure character. This is one description of a degree ceremony Vicky attended: “Singing and shouting interrupted the proceedings and on one occasion a hen was let loose to fly over the heads of the assembled students and dignitaries.”

Like other women who were attempting to forge careers in medicine in the early 1920s, Vicky was met with misogyny upon graduation. After applying for the post of House Surgeon at the General Hospital, Vicky was only offered the job if she promised to call one of the male doctors if there was any difficulty. It took 24 hours of hand-wringing before she reluctantly agreed. However, Vicky was to prove herself so capable and skilled in the role that the hospital then made a point of only appointing women to that position in the future.

You can buy The Women Who Built Bristol on Jane’s website. Volume two will be published in October 2019.

What does it mean to be a woman today?

 

Today’s guest blog is by students May Mundt-Leach and Erandi Barrera Moreno, founders of the newly formed Women Talk Back! group.

Every week on a Sunday evening, the Multifaith Chaplaincy is filled with women from across Bristol. The atmosphere is light-hearted but quietly expectant as we close the door and settle down together with a cup of tea and a piece (or several…) of homemade cake.

Women Talk Back! was inspired by bell hooks’ Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black and is a new and exciting space for women at the University of Bristol to talk about our lives and experiences in a relaxed and confidential setting. We may come from different courses, countries and backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common – the desire to discuss what it means to be a woman today. We use the long-standing, grassroots method of feminist ‘consciousness-raising’ to do so.

A central part of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain and the US in the 1970s and 80s, consciousness-raising (‘C-R’) attempts to bridge the gap between what we think and what we say. Through C-R, women learn that problems we thought were individual to us are, in fact, widespread political problems which emerge from structural forms of oppression. We realise that systems of power are present in our daily lives and majorly influence how we interact with both others and ourselves.

At Women Talk Back!, we choose a different topic to discuss every week. All women are free to attend as many or as few meetings as they like, with newcomers always welcome. So far, we have explored topics ranging from how it felt to grow up as female, to our feelings about motherhood, to cultural and social expectations that are placed on us around food and eating – all in the first three meetings!

Our programme for this term aims to leave no stone unturned. Pornography, race, sexuality, and body hair are all issues we will be discussing in the near future. We encourage women to suggest topics for us to discuss – and nothing will be deemed too trivial, obscure or off-limits.

The stigma of female body hair, for example, is something that pervades society and heavily influences women’s, particularly young women’s, relationships with our bodies. We’d like to ask why this is. Why do some women face harsher penalisations for their body hair than others? Whose interests does hair removal serve? Can our decision to remove our body hair (if we do) be simply reduced down to ‘choice’, or is the reality more complicated?

Women coming together with other women is a political act. Reserving space for ourselves as women, in light of our similarities and differences, is a political act. Looking each other in the eye and seeing not only her, but also an image of ourselves reflected back at us, can be simultaneously ground-breaking, frightening and exhilarating.  María Lugones, Argentinian philosopher, organiser and educator, describes how “by travelling to [another woman’s] ‘world’ we can understand what it is to be them and what it is to be ourselves in their eyes”.

It is only through facing the true nature of the systems of which we are embedded in, that women can begin to piece together what is happening to us. And it is only through recognising the authenticity of our own, discrete experiences that we can begin freeingourselves from such systems. We started Women Talk Back! with one single aim – to provide a space where every woman feels she can speak her truth, and in doing so, reflect on not only her own life but the lives of all other women around her.

So come and join us – and if nothing else, we have cake!

Join the Women Talk Back! group via the Bristol SU website, or follow it on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with meetings, which are held every Sunday at 7pm in the Multifaith Chaplaincy.

Celebrating our women in the Wills Memorial Building

By Judith Squires, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education

Judith Squires, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education photographed with Winifred Shapland, former Registrar of the University of Bristol

Last night was a historic evening for the University as we unveiled a special series of portraits in the Wills Memorial Building. Never before have women graced the walls of the Great Hall, which has more recently been a space for hanging portraits of our former Vice-Chancellors. 

Although we’ve never had a female Vice-Chancellor, many incredible women have helped to shape the University and, indeed, the world. So, in the year which marks a centenary since the first British women won the vote, we wanted to redress the balance by celebrating these educators, pioneers and activists. 

As we were the first higher education institution in England to welcome women on an equal basis to men, it’s only fitting that the many visitors to the Great Hall see that the University is proud of the achievements of the inspirational women that have shaped our history and continue to shape our future. 

From our first woman lecturer to the first British woman to have won a Nobel Prize, these notable women now take their rightful place on the walls of our most prestigious building. Although the achievements of women such as Lady Hale, Professor Jean Golding and Professor Dorothy Hodgkin have been rightly honoured – both in the University and more widely – in the past, we also wanted to uncover the stories of unsung heroines, whose achievements aren’t as well-known as they should be. 

Current staff, students and alumni whose research, learning or work connects them to these women share their thoughts on their lives, careers and legacies in this online gallery. 

Winifred Shapland, University of Bristol Registrar, 1931 – 1950

I’m photographed holding an image of Winifred Shapland. Not only was Winfred the Registrar here for nearly 20 years (1931 to 1950), she was the first female Registrar of any British university. Winfred held this, the most senior professional services role, at a time when universities were led almost exclusively by men. She was a pioneer in the world of higher education, and I am proud the University of Bristol showed its commitment to gender equality from its earliest days by appointing her to the role.  

Working with our Special Collections Library, we were able to unearth the address given by former Vice-Chancellor, Sir Philip Morris, at her memorial service which gave us an insight into her life, of which she devoted over 40 years to the University. Although she was known to abhor personal recognition and publicity, we feel that marking her legacy in this way is important; reflecting the University’s early and continuing commitment to gender equality and showing generations of women who followed her in higher education that no job is beyond their reach.  

Winifred and the other nine women featured are just a handful of the many remarkable women who have made, and continue to make, Bristol truly great. Featuring them alongside ten women in today’s University community gave us the opportunity to show how their legacy is continuing to inspire our study, teaching and work today, while also showcasing our current pioneers. 

This project will be the first of many initiatives to honour our women in the Wills Memorial Building and more widely across the University, with new permanent artworks to be commissioned every year until 2028: the 100-year anniversary of full suffrage in Britain, when all women over 21 were given the right to vote, not just those over the age of 30 who owned property.  

Much has changed since those brave women fought for their rights and the rights of future generations of women. As a University, we pledge to ensure their legacy lives on and we urge all our students, staff and alumni to work together as we strive further towards equality. Please look at our Vote 100 campaign online and continue to share your thoughts on social media using #BristolUniWomen. 

Equality and diversity in health research

Lauren Curtis, Diversity and Inclusion Champion in the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, blogs about her role, Vote 100 and equality in health research.

Vote 100 marks 100 years since the first women gained the vote in the UK: definitely something to celebrate! When you look back at 100 years of women in medicine there is much to celebrate here too. The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute at the University of Bristol is named after Bristol-born Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school. She was a pioneer instrumental in many campaigns for reform, and launched numerous innovative health schemes, including establishing the first UK medical school for women. A very fitting namesake for the Institute, which exemplifies the spirit of what we are striving to achieve today.

Black and white image of Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell

I joined the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research as Diversity and Inclusion Champion in November last year. This unique post, funded by the Wellcome Trust, focuses on identifying barriers, and championing and challenging Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) within health and biomedical research communities at the University of Bristol. More broadly EDI is something that the University is dedicated to, and so the work I am doing is very much aligned with the work of the EDI team.

Equality, diversity and inclusion in health research is vital as it encourages a range of solutions to health challenges. Everyone should have equal access to opportunities, feel that they can contribute their ideas, and that each unique perspective is valued.

Since starting in this post, I have seen a lot of people doing fantastic work to address barriers related to EDI at the University and that progress has been made. However, we are not there yet and there is still much to do.

Lauren EDI Champion standing in front of an Elizabeth Blackwell banner
Lauren Curtis, EDI Champion

There are clear benefits to having a diverse range of staff, and in research, having lots of people bringing different ideas to solve problems is important. However, to attract and retain talented researchers everyone needs to feel that this is something that they want to and can be part of and to achieve this we must embed an inclusive culture where everyone can fully participate. EDI needs to be something that we are all involved in and should be threaded through all we do. My role is to help support colleagues in the health and biomedical research community to make this to happen.

I have worked with colleagues in the Faculty of Health and Faculty of Life Sciences to run discussion sessions and listen to staff talk about barriers and challenges they have faced or been aware of. This has enabled me to learn about the lived experiences of staff and, along with other information, has allowed me to identify some priority areas for action and ways in which we can continue to improve things.

“A blank wall of social and professional antagonism faces the woman physician that forms a situation of singular and painful loneliness, leaving her without support, respect or professional counsel.”  – Elizabeth Blackwell.

Thankfully much has changed since Elizabeth Blackwell spoke these words, but there is always more that can be done to ensure equality and inclusion for all.

Watch ‘100 Years of Medical Women: The Past, Present & Future’ on YouTube.

Give a little RESPECT  

Sally Patterson, Bristol Students’ Union elected officer for equality and liberation, has written today’s blog on the work to tackle sexual harassment and violence. 

As we mark 100 years since the first women gained the vote in the UK, it feels apt to celebrate the considerable progress made by our foremothers; contraception, safe abortions, the criminalisation of rape within marriage. Yet the reality is that we still have a long way to go.  

Sally Patterson stood outside in front of green plants
Sally Patterson, SU officer for equality and liberation

Sexual violence still exists in many forms in our culture – from cat calling, unwanted sexting, harassment and abusive relationships to sexual assault and rape – including within our University. Research commissioned by Bristol SU at the end of the last academic year explored students’ relationships, sex lives, experiences of sexual health services and experiences of harassment and assault.   

Our ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ research found that students arrive at University with a range of different experiences and levels of education.  Just 24% of student surveyed had received formal education around sexual assault and rape and 24% had received formal education on healthy relationships.   

Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, our research mirrored the bleak picture at other universities: 52% of all Bristol students had experienced sexual harassment whilst studying, largely on a night out in a nightclub, bar or pub.  

The results from our research remind us that we have a long way to go until women and non-binary students are equal and safe at university. Drawing from these results, as well as previous research and anecdotal evidence, we have launched the RESPECT campaign this term. Bristol SU and the University will be collaborating on a campaign that promotes a welcoming, positive, supportive and safe environment for everyone.   

The response from students at the Welcome Fair was hugely positive: we had over 80 people sign-up to be ambassadors and gave out over 1,500 condoms and postcards with information.   

RESPECT is made up of seven themes; relationships, empowerment, safety, pleasure, equality, consent and trust. Real change requires appropriate support for people who have been affected, whilst also working to change a culture under which sexual violence prevails, thus preventing similar experiences from taking place in the future. The University and Students’ Union are committed to eradicating sexual violence in line with our Zero Tolerance Pledges. Now it is up to all of us to make this a reality.   

Race, Female Suffrage, and Parliamentary Representation: Centenary Reflections

Today’s guest post is from Dr Sumita Mukherjee, Senior Lecturer in History, discussing the roles of history and race in global suffrage.

In February 2018, I held a workshop in parliament to discuss the ways in which we could learn from the history of suffrage struggles, and the fights for political representation in the Global South, and use those lessons in reflecting on the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in Britain. The workshop was supported by PolicyBristol, History&Policy  and the national Vote 100 campaign. Some of the podcasts from this event are available online. Speakers came from a range of academic and policy backgrounds, with an equally mixed audience.

Dr Sumita Mukherjee,, Senior Lecturer in History standing in front of a bookcase
Dr Sumita Mukherjee, Senior Lecturer in History

We were guided by a number of key questions, including:

  • How can we inspire, or encourage, Black and Minority Ethnic women to feel included during commemorations this centenary year that celebrates a predominately white suffrage movement in Britain?
  • In what ways can we acknowledge the historical issues that women of colour have faced in campaigning for greater political and social equality?
  • How can we use examples of the ways women in the Global South have campaigned for greater political equality to inform current policy making and strategies for change?

This centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the vote in the UK and Ireland, has been used by a number of groups within and outside parliament, to propel change towards greater gender equality. But women are not a homogenous group. Britain was not the first country to give women the vote, nor does Britain have the most women MPs in parliament in the world today; 65 countries do better than the UK in terms of the ratio of female to male politicians in parliament. There is a long way to go for gender equality in the UK, and we shouldn’t automatically assume that Britain can’t learn from the Global South, historically and contemporaneously, on successful campaigns for equality.

Black and white photo of Indian suffragettes in a procession of 1911
Indian suffragettes in a procession of 1911

If we look at the Inter-Parlimentary Union data, Rwanda tops the list for the highest proportion of women in parliament, with nearly 64 per cent (in 2013). This is a direct result of the 2003 imposition of a quota of at least 30 per cent women members of parliament. Political parties also adopted voluntary quotas for their shortlists. 16 countries in Latin America have adopted similar quotas, mostly from the 1990s onwards, with similar interventions in many other countries around the world. The UK has resisted. Meanwhile in countries without interventions there have been incidences where the proportion of women in parliament has declined. Being ‘patient’ is not good enough. It is clear that without intervention then structural inequalities, whether relating to race, gender, sexuality, or disability, are unlikely to be addressed. The assumption that appointments are made merely on merit and that the best women (or people from minority groups) would be elected or promoted if they were ‘good enough’, needs to be challenged because it does not take into account the structural inequalities many individuals face in their lives and careers.

A group of women sitting in parliament
Women in the Rwandan parliament

History doesn’t necessarily offer lessons from the past, but it offers comparable examples. More importantly it shows how long it can take for change to take place; this is particularly apparent when looking at the suffrage struggles both in the UK and elsewhere. History allows us to see not only how the 1918 Act came to pass, but also the effects afterwards. We can see the value of petitioning, but also of organising, leadership, and persistence. What history shows is that there has been slow progress in gender equality in the UK since 1918. It also shows that inequalities based on race and class were not addressed sufficiently in the suffrage movement, and that the rhetoric of empire loomed large over debates over citizenship. Examples from around the world allow us to stop centring Britain as the centre of the world, or merely middle-class white feminists as the centre of the global feminist movement. History teaches us that those struggles and battles will continue beyond 2018.

You can listen to Sumita answer our ‘three questions’ series on feminism and the next 100 years at bristol.ac.uk/women/three-questions.

Behind the scenes at Vote 100

We work in the marketing and communications department and this year have been highlighting women and equality as part of Vote 100 – a national campaign to commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage. As Bristol Uni Women ourselves, we wanted to kick off this blog series by talking about why we are excited to be involved in this project. 

Philippa, Sarah and Kate in the Wills Memorial Building
Philippa, Sarah and Kate in the Wills Memorial Building

Throughout 2018 we’ve been asking fellow feminists to tell us about the women they think more people should know about; the next thing they’d like to see change; and the everyday acts we can all take part in to improve equality. 

The answers have been as varied as they are inspiring and are testament to the difference a single voice can make. So what changes are we making in our own lives? We’ve started deliberately supporting women’s art, literature and film; spoken out against sexism; and learnt more about the importance of intersectionality in our activism. We’re also starting conversations about the everyday challenges faced by women, encouraging people to reflect on their own actions and beliefs. 

A pile of open books

It’s been wonderful to work on a project that has allowed us to look into our fascinating past, discovering the trailblazing Bristol women who changed our University, and our city, for the better. From entrepreneurial alum Chloe Tingle to Students’ Union Chief Executive Sam Budd, our staff, students and alumni continue to help shape policy and culture today.  

This November we are commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the first women being able to stand for election, with an event in the Wills Memorial Building. Baroness Shami Chakrabarti joins an expert panel of activists and historians, with interactive voting to bring our audience into the debate. In the run-up to the event, we’ll be asking some of our #BristolUniWomen to contribute to this blog, discussing what changes we need, how to best achieve this, and what equality means to them. 

The Victoria Rooms lit up in suffragette colours
The Victoria Rooms lit up in suffragette colours

We’d love you to join us in this conversation. Use the hashtag to tell us about your favourite #BristolUniWomen and what topics are most important to you. 

We’re also planning an historic surprise at our venue for the night – so make sure you don’t miss out. You can book your free ticket here: https://women-and-equality.eventbrite.co.uk   

Find out more about women at the University of Bristol and our campaign at bristol.ac.uk/women   

 By Kate Ashley, Sarah Ashley, and Philippa Walker