Race Matters

100 years after the first women got the vote, the fight for true equality goes on

By Kimberly McIntosh, Runnymede Policy Officer

Sunday saw processions across the country celebrating 100 years since the Representation of the People Act – also known as the year (some) women were given the right to vote in the UK for the first time. I was happy to see my Twitter timeline dotted with shout-outs to both the women of colour involved in the suffrage movement and also pointing out who had been excluded. Informative think pieces were re-shared that spoke of working class and disabled women who fought for their right to vote.

Thanks to the work of historians Dr Sumita Mukherjee and Anita Anand, Indian Suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is having her efforts recognised. A recent BBC article on black and Asian women who fought for the vote brought new names to fore: Sushama Sen, PL Roy (Lolita Roy) and Bhagwati Bhola Nauth who played a role in both the UK and Indian suffrage movements. But if it’s taken 100 years for these women to get the attention that’s rightfully theirs, who else, and which movements past and present, are still missing from the debate on rights and recognition?

Intersectional feminism has become the buzzword for the new feminist era. But the role of women of colour at the forefront of the women’s movement hasn’t caught up with the new, trendy rhetoric. Luckily, an excellent article by Leah Sinclair gives a great summary of lesser-known black antiracist feminist campaigners in Britain. Although I already knew of Olive Morris – co-founder of Brixton Black Women’s group and Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) - I had never heard of Kathleen Wrasama, who moved to England as a child in 1917 from Ethiopia. Later, she became a founding member of the Stepney Coloured Peoples Association, dedicating her time to improving housing and educational opportunities for black people. The history of the fight for racial, gender and economic justice has many more voices beyond the middle-class Suffragettes and the US civil rights movement that should be included. And with our current movements for change, we must see an intersectional approach and an acknowledgement of the specific needs of BME women. The Times Up movement started to recognise this slowly. Bringing BME-led women’s organisations like Imkaan Executive Director Marai Larasi onto the red carpet was a good start. Moving the focus from Hollywood stars to domestic workers and migrant women is a laudable next step.

That’s why we’re organising an event in Manchester – the birthplace of the Suffrage Movement – on 26th June at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, to bring the stories of women rights’ campaigners from the past, together with the women working now for intersectional change.  

Speakers include:

Dr Sumita Mukherjee, Senior Lecturer in History, University of Bristol and author of upcoming book Indian Suffragettes: Female Identities and Transnational Networks

Latoya and Lisa, graduates from the RECLAIM leadership programme, run for young people from working-class communities in Greater Manchester

Sandhya Sharma, Safety4Sisters North West, Manchester-based women’s organisation that support vulnerable migrant women who cannot access safe accommodation or welfare support and who are experiencing gender-based violence.

Tickets can be bought here. Free tickets are available for unwaged folks and asylum seekers are available. Please get in touch with ella@anotherwayassociates.com.

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