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Actuary

Suffragette

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Emily was the leading British Suffragette who played a militant role in helping women gain their right to vote. For her, human life was sacred [especially women] and so fought for their rights and had put the enemy (the government) in a position where they had to choose between giving women their freedom or death sentence.

Emily was born in Manchester in 1858. She belonged to a family of radical politics and she continued the family tradition by stepping into that mould by campaigning passionately for women?s right to vote. It was then she met Richard Pankhurst, a leading barrister and a supporter of the women?s suffrage movement.

With time she got over the loss as the movement needed her leadership and she threw herself wholeheartedly into the movement. She formed the women?s franchise league in the year 1898. However, before that she was already elected as a ?Poor Law Guardian? (Guardian of the underprivileged) and that position allowed her to spend time with workers who lived in workhouses of Manchester in appalling conditions. They lived in abject poverty and constant hunger. The shocking levels of poverty which these impoverished workers faced on a daily basis moved Emily that she decided to do something to change their living conditions for the better. In 1903, Emily formed the militant Women?s Social and Political Union (WSPU). It was through the political action of the WSPU that the term suffragette movement was created. The suffragette movement was a group of passionate women who were willing to take part in drastic actions such as tying oneself to railings, smashing windows and launching demonstrations. Although these tactics were looked down upon by the pacifists, Emily adopted it wholly and defended the militant tactics on the grounds that the condition of women is so deplorable that it is her duty to break the law in order to call attention.

The government and other establishments were vexed with her demonstrations especially her approach and many of Emily?s comrades were arrested. But that did not change her stance. She and her other comrades went on hunger strike and they were force fed and released only to be rearrested for some other violent demonstration. Many a time Emily courted arrested and called it as a cat and mouse game between her and the authorities.

In 1912 Emily was convicted for breaking windows and was sent to Holloway Prison. There in the prison, she did not keep quiet after seeing the living conditions of the prisoners. She promptly went on a hunger strike and protested about the pathetic conditions that the prisoners were kept in. The jail authorities were fed up of Emily and her tactics and looked for ways to get rid of her at the earliest. She created trouble for them every single day that she stayed there. On the other hand, the prisoners were happy to have her in their midst as they knew she would do something for them before she left jail. Once she came out of jail, she described her time in prison like a human being in the process of being turned into a wild beast.

Due to the increased militancy of the British suffragette movement, the public opinion was polarized. Frankly speaking, the general opinion of the suffragette movement was not good as they were often described as fanatics, and that did not help their cause. It was 1914 and the outbreak of WWI diverted the mind of the suffragette group. Emily very intelligently used her campaigning tactics to support the war effort and announced a temporary truce in the women?s suffragette campaign.

Emily considered the menace of German aggression a far greater threat than fighting for a vote at that point of time, for what would she do with votes if there is no country to vote for. The government and the suffragette declared a truce and political prisoners were released. With the WWI in full swing, many women were drafted into factories and some women joined as bus drivers, truck drivers and post women, positions predominantly held by men previously.

Emily gave a clarion call and pushed all her compatriots to join these jobs without any reservation and give their best. The government, on its part, was only too happy to receive any kind of manpower help from the suffragette. It was after all the need of the hour with many of the men fighting valiantly at the war front and this woman supplied her comrades as their replacement. This eased much of the government?s problems. With less manpower in the country, Emily?s women power rose to prominence and this social radical change of WWI inadvertently helped Emily?s original cause. The stiff opposition that she faced from the pacifists died a natural death and that paved the way for Emily to push the envelope a little further for the cause that she relentlessly fought for. Eventually, in 1918, women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote. At last with her mission accomplished, she surprised many by joining the Conservative Party in 1926 and 2 years later ran for parliament as a Conservative candidate.

In 1928, women were granted equal voting right with men (at 21). The same year Emily fell ill and died on June 14, 1928. Whatever the merits of her action, she epitomized the passionate belief that women deserved equal rights and helped to give them a higher profile. She lived through the struggle and strived to procure the necessary status for women by defining their role in society and ultimately saw women given the vote before her death. She will always be remembered as the first known British suffragette who fought like a man for woman empowerment.



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