Women On The March
On Saturday 21 January 2017, millions of people took part in worldwide protest marches in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington. The official mission of the Women's March was 'to send a bold message to our new government … and to the world that women's rights are human rights'. It focussed on the promotion of human rights, gender equality and issues relating to immigration and healthcare reform. The Women's March on Washington – and all of the associated demonstrations around the world – were intended as a direct response to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
Women have often been at the forefront of campaigns for political and social change, including the anti-war and peace movements. Here are some other examples of women who have tried to change the world through protest.
In Edwardian Britain, the campaign for women's suffrage often made headline news. Established in Manchester in 1903, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia used direct action to try to gain women the vote.
During the First World War, the WSPU suspended campaigning, feeling that they should support the war effort and also hoping that their support might benefit the suffrage cause. However, some suffragettes opposed the war, despite this being an increasingly unpopular stance, and became known as 'peacettes'. The suffrage movement was divided. Sylvia Pankhurst left the WSPU to set up an alternative movement and founded a newspaper, Women's Dreadnought, which spoke out against the war.
Women were highly visible during the 1917 February Revolution which toppled the Tsarist regime in Russia. Strikers in St Petersburg (later renamed Petrograd) rallied round female protesters marching on International Women's Day against food rationing. Female workers also marched to nearby factories to recruit over 50,000 workers for a strike. Eventually 200,000 protesters filled the streets of the city.
In the years after the First World War, women were at the forefront of the peace movement. In May 1926, groups of protesters from around Britain took part in the Women’s Peacemakers' Pilgrimage, which ended on 19 June 1926 with a gathering of 10,000 people in Hyde Park, London. In January 1932 the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) collected 6 million signatures on a petition to the World Disarmament Conference. Women also joined large peace organisations such as the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The PPU was the highest profile peace group in 1930s Britain. By 1937 it had over 100,000 members, including a number of high profile figures such as Siegfried Sassoon, Vera Brittain and Aldous Huxley.
Vera Brittain maintained her pacifist stance throughout the 1930s and 1940s. During the Second World War, she campaigned for peace and criticised the Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany.
In 1950s Britain, a large anti-nuclear movement emerged in which many women were active participants. The Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) was formed in 1957 and organised the first Aldermaston march which became an annual event. The protest focused on the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, Britain’s main facility for nuclear weapons. It was also supported by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) formed in February 1958. The 1958 march involved approximately 8,000 protesters. By 1962, it involved around 150,000. Pat Arrowsmith, one of the co-founders of the DAC and CND went on to serve several prison sentences for her political activities.
In 1981 the British Government agreed to site Cruise missiles (guided nuclear missiles) in the UK, at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire. Angered by this decision, a group of women arrived at the base and established what became known as the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. Between 1981 and 1983 the protesters often attempted to blockaded the base. In December 1982 more than 30,000 women gathered to join hands around the base at the 'Embrace the Base' event. Women continued to protest throughout the 1980s. Many faced court cases, fines and sometimes imprisonment for their actions. The numbers of women at the camp dwindled over time but it remained standing as a continuing protest against nuclear weapons. The last of the Greenham women left the base in September 2000, nineteen years after they'd first arrived.
On 15 February 2003, protests were held across the world against a planned invasion of Iraq led by the United States. In the UK the marches were organised by the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) in partnership with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Britain.
STWC was formed soon after the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001, in reaction to the aggressive American military strategy against perceived Islamic terrorism. One of its founding members was Lindsey German, who acted as convenor of the Coalition and spoke at many of its meetings.
The 2003 protest attracted a diverse group of people, many of whom had never taken part in a protest before. London's march involved between 1 and 2 million people (estimates vary) – a record for any British protest. Worldwide it was recorded as the largest protest of its type in history.
Check out People Power: Fighting For Peace at IWM London to find out more about peace movements from the First World War to the present day.