“We should simply and straightforwardly have a statue of Emily Davison in parliament.” So said Emily Thornberry MP last night, the founder of the Emily Davison statue in parliament campaign – here’s the petition, sign it quick, because #EmilyMatters.
Why does Emily matter?
Well, over a century on from Emily Davison losing her life in protest at the Derby (1913):
- Only 6 out of 100 non-royal statues in parliament are of women: 2 of those statues are Margaret Thatcher and 2 are Nancy Astor. This adds up to a grand total of 4 women who have been deemed worthy for bronzing up on the parliamentary estate – what does this say to school girls and boys who visit the Houses of Parliament?
- “Only 20% of government front benchers are women” - what does this say about David Cameron’s commitment to equality?
- There are 22% female MPs and 78% male MPs - what does this say about women’s involvement in decision-making in this country?
It says, THIS AIN’T BLOODY GOOD ENOUGH!
To Freedom’s Cause - by Kate Willoughby
The story of Emily Davison and her extraordinary role in the UK Suffragette movement has been brought to life in breathtaking style by writer and actor Kate Willoughby.
To Freedom’s Cause was performed last night at the Houses of Parliament, as part of the #EmilyMatters campaign. In a packed Jubilee room, with barely a centimetre between the front row of the audience and the actors on stage, the cast of this extraordinary piece of theatre held us captivated throughout their performance. We laughed. We cried. We were inspired.
We watched as Emily’s story unfolded; we were shown how Emily struggled to reconcile her relationship with her mother along side her conviction to ‘the cause’ (the Suffragette movement). Emily has never felt more alive, she says. She cannot give up her passion to win the right to vote for women. She cannot settle down, despite pleas from her mother. The tension between mother and daughter is matched in equal measure with tenderness; in captivating scenes with actors Kyra Williams and Kate Willoughby (playing Margaret and Emily Davison), we witness their conflict, love and ultimately loss, when Emily dies at the Derby.
Kate’s play has resulted from her meticulous research, which sprang from her discovery of Margaret Davison’s last letter to her daughter Emily, written after the tragic events at the Epsom Derby – a letter which Emily never got to read herself.
To Freedom’s Cause brings history to life in fascinating and terrifying detail. The brutal force-feeding Emily endured for going on hunger strike, for example, a thick tube forced down her throat 49 times, under restraint. The play dramatises the inhumanity of this treatment of the Suffragettes and references the 1913 Cat and Mouse Act, through which “the government sought to deal with the problem of hunger striking suffragettes with the 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act. This Act allowed for the early release of prisoners who were so weakened by hunger striking that they were at risk of death. They were to be recalled to prison once their health was recovered, where the process would begin again.”
The rest of the cast were brilliant too – they all played multiple roles in the piece, a feat in itself to remember which accent to deliver! Eleanor Dennison as Flora Drummond aka The General had us laughing with her stirring calls to battle. Fiona Geddes was brilliant as Connie Ellis and Miss Smith. Darren Godbold played Herbert Jones, the King’s Jockey, who is rightly remembered as part of these historical events.
Here are the cast and director relaxing after the performance: Eleanor Dennison, Fiona Geddes, Brian Astbury (director), Kyra Williams, Kate Willoughby and Darren Godbold.
Is equality still worth fighting for?
This was the debate that followed To Freedom’s Cause. The debate was chaired by Jane Garvey (BBC Woman’s Hour) with panelists Chi Onwurah MP, Dr Helen Pankhurst, Yas Necati (feminist campaigner) and Emma Barnett (women’s editor of the Daily Telegraph).
In a wide-ranging debate, we heard from Emma Barnett about her investigation into dishonest and dangerous ‘advice’ being given by abortion counsellors at Crisis Pregnancy Centres in the UK - amongst other spurious claims Emma and other Telegraph reporters uncovered, women have been told that they could become child sex abusers if they choose to have an abortion.
Feminist campaigner, Yas Necati, winner of a Guardian Women’s Award in 2013, described the landscape of feminism at school and her contributions to the No More Page 3 campaign, including an origami, tree-climbing, paper plane protest at the Sun HQ in London.
There was an uplifting message from Dr Helen Pankhurst: “I find so many young women are politically engaged,” Helen said. Helen and Laura Pankhurst are leading “Walk in Her Shoes” on International Women’s Day 2014, launching CARE’s campaign for equality and justice for women in developing countries.
Chi Onwurah MP had the room laughing when she pointed out the painting over the fireplace. She said wherever you go in parliament, you’re surrounded by 18th century men.
Jane Garvey held the debate together, bringing in audience comments and Twitter questions to the debate. There was an audience comment about the need for more sisterhood – how we need to stand together and support one another more. Another woman spoke about how difficult it was to go back to work on an equal footing after having a baby.
For my part, I was there to cheer on my good friend Yas and also to represent the No More Page 3 campaign. I had a funny incident on the way through security going into the Houses of Parliament. Two burly coppers told me to cover up my No More Page 3 T-shirt – but in the nick of time, in stepped a brilliant female policewoman. She said to her colleagues ‘we’ve had Suffragettes and all sorts going through tonight, she’s alright as she is!’
The policewoman went on to tell me how the Sun was all over the parliamentary estate and how a copy was open in the parliamentary cafe that day – naked bloody skydiving, she said, that was what we had today. To which, I said the Sun shouldn’t be in workplaces and I encouraged her to start a campaign
For more about Kate Willoughy Productions and ‘To Freedom’s Cause’ – please visit Kate’s website.