This afternoon about 2,500 women of all ages and a fair number of men, children and babies (plus a few dogs – including Tess who wasn’t at all happy about the drums at the end) processed from Bruntisfield to Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Why? To mark the centenary (or centenery as it was written on the banner!!) of the 1909 Scottish Women’s Suffrage Procession along Princes Street. It wasn’t possible to follow the exact route now for reasons that are annoyingly clear to anyone living here, but for those who don’t – open quick parenthesis – Princes Street is currently impassable because of construction works for the tram system (should be “a good thing” eventually, but at what cost!).
The above image shows the October 1909 procession down Princes Street, Edinburgh: great banners, including “A Gude Cause maks a Strong Arm”! (courtesy of the Gude Cause website)
As well as the Edinburgh event, a similar re-enactment was held this morning in Dundee with a march through the city centre, past plaques celebrating the lives of “notable Dundee women”. (Another quick parenthesis: Dundee seems to have stolen a march on Edinburgh here by actually having a “Women’s Trail” comprising 25 plaques to, among others
missionary Mary Slessor, marmalade maker Janet Keiller and suffragette Ethel Moorhead. There is also a marker to an “Anonymous Maidservant”, a trade unionist who hid her identity because she would have been sacked if her boss had found out.
But back to Edinburgh – it was a beautiful day today and there was an amazing spirit of commitment, enthusiasm and friendliness. I tagged onto the Women’s History Scotland group – with their wonderful banner showing The Biographical Dictionary of ScottishWomen.
What with songs from Protest in Harmony group and other music, it was a happy and joyful occasion – a fitting memorial, but at the same time one that highlighted all that still needs to be done, both here and, above all, internationally.
Only a month ago, the UN voted to create a new, more powerful agency for women: in a move hailed as a breakthrough for women’s equality and rights, an assembly resolution called for the amalgamation of four existing U.N. offices dealing with women’s affairs into a single body.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will also be required to produce a comprehensive proposal, including the new entity’s mission statement, organizational arrangements, funding and executive board within a year. The number of women holding senior posts has also increased by 40 per cent under his tenure – although what the actual numbers are, I couldn’t find out! However, the UN does have a laudable goal of achieving a 50:50 gender balance at all levels in the UN System – more details here.
There are still countries where this poster applies: we must do everything possible through bodies like the UN to ensure that women’s rights are respected.
(London’s Suffrage Atelier, started by a group of artists dedicated to promoting votes for women, produced this 1912 poster – see this fascinating website for the International Museum for Women. )