Secondary: Current Assemblies
THE SUFFRAGETTES AND DIRECT ACTION
To consider the direct action the suffragettes took during their campaign.
Preparation and materials
- Say that a new protest movement is sweeping the land. Let’s call them ‘The Demanders’. There are many people who protest peacefully, marching, singing, chanting, carrying banners and attending meetings. Others take more direct action, chaining themselves to railings, smashing windows and damaging property, setting fires, going on hunger strike in prison, throwing themselves down stairs and more – all to draw attention to their cause.
Ask the students, ‘What would we call this second group? Criminals, freedom fighters, terrorists . . . ?
- Explain that these last actions were all undertaken by suffragettes in the early part of the twentieth century. These were women, and some men, protesting against the unfairness of a society in which women were not allowed to vote and demanding votes for women as a basic human right.
Recap the basic details of the movement if necessary. Does this change how you view them? Does the fact that their cause was just mean their actions were right? If appropriate, take responses to these questions.
- Point out that there is one crucial difference between the suffragette movement and many direct action groups. All adults in the UK have the right to vote, so, if they don’t like something, they can lobby, protest within the law and use their voice to persuade Parliament to change things. This fundamental right was denied to all women until, thanks to the struggle of the suffragettes, they won the right to vote in 1918 – but only if they were over the age of 30! It wasn’t until 1928 that women were allowed to vote on the same terms as men.
Time for reflection
What do you think of the direct action undertaken by sections of the suffragette movement? Did they have any choice, as democratic means were denied to them?Has democracy yet delivered a truly fair society for women? If not, how do you think society needs to change?In which parts of the world are women still denied equal rights under the law?