Granddaughter Of Emmeline Pankhurst, Dr Helen Pankhurst, protests at parliament in 2012 (Picture: Getty)


A practical to-do list to make women’s lives better

Deeds *and* words are the key to feminism’s success, says Laura Bates

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By Laura Bates on

In the fight for equality, members of the women’s rights movement have organised mass protests, carried out hunger strikes and even concealed themselves in parliamentary broom cupboards. It’s not surprising that “Deeds Not Words” became such a famous and effective slogan.

Personally, I’m a strong believer in deeds *and* words. Feminism is flourishing and as a new generation takes to social media to speak out about it, they frequently come up against the criticism of shouting into an echo chamber, or being “armchair activists”. These criticisms miss the point. What starts online can have powerful repercussions offline too, as the success of the No More Page 3 campaign clearly showed. The act of speaking; sharing stories and raising awareness is a vital step in tackling gender inequality, particularly when we live in a society where many people remain unconvinced that the problem even exists. 

Rather than focusing on just one or the other, we can combine awareness raising with concrete action for effective change. 

So what can you do beyond sharing articles and speaking up about the issues? 

Support Existing Projects

There is brilliant grassroots work being done by charities and organisations such as Karma Nirvana (which fights against forced marriage and honour based violence), Integrate Bristol (which is doing vital work to tackle female genital mutilation), and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (a group of organisations at the very coalface of the battle for gender equality). These groups can’t continue without funding and support – so whether it’s volunteering, fundraising or making a donation, get in touch and see how you can help. 

Start Your Own

In the words of Lily Tomlin: “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realised. I am somebody.” Sometimes the most vital resources arise when somebody recognises a gap and steps up to fill it. A brilliant recent example is Pavan Amara’s My Body Back Project. Amara realised that there were no specialist services available to provide sexual health screening and cervical smear tests to survivors of sexual assault. Working with her local NHS trust, she set up the first clinic of its kind in the country, and it is already booked up for months ahead. 

Join a Campaign

It takes a lot of noise to force people to sit up and take notice, so one of the most effective things you can do is to use your voice to amplify those already shouting for change. Current campaigns in need of support include the Set Her Free campaign to end the detention of refugee women, the It’s My Right campaign for statutory sex and relationships education and Plan’s Because I am a girl campaign for girls’ rights internationally.

Demand Change

Sometimes change means calling on those in positions of authority to wield their power in the service of gender equality. As a constituent you have the right to raise concerns with your MP and you can use that right to urge them to take action on particular issues. This might mean supporting the call for the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women, or writing to your local MP to urge them to take action on domestic violence. 

Join Up

From the UK's leading charity for promoting gender equality to its newest political party aiming to achieve progress through legislative change, you could sign up today to become a member of a group fighting for women's rights

Support Women's Work

It's a well-known fact that women are underrepresented across a variety of fields – an audit by East London Fawcett found that women make up only 31 per cent of featured artists in London galleries and the latest VIDA count found that just 23 per cent of the authors reviewed in the London Review of Books were female. This has inspired numerous campaigns to redress the balance by encouraging individuals to read only female authors for a year, or actively to support female artists. 

Start Your Own Ripple

We live in a society where casual everyday sexism and sexual harassment are pervasive, creating normalised attitudes and behaviours towards women that are difficult to challenge. We can’t solve the under-representation of women in politics without also addressing a media that reports on female MPs’ shoes instead of their policies. We can’t deal with the fact that there are just seven female heads of FTSE 100 companies if we don’t also confront workplace gender discrimination. We can’t tackle the fact that 85,000 women are raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year without also challenging the notion that women’s bodies are fair game for comment, harassment and groping in public spaces. This isn’t to say that one directly leads to the other; rather that we have to address the full spectrum of the problem if we really want things to change.

And it starts everywhere. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. Every person who looks out of the window when a woman is harassed on a bus sends the message to the harasser that he can act with impunity. Everyone who sniggers at a sexist workplace joke reminds the victim that it’s socially acceptable and she’s expected to put up with it. Just a single act of challenging the status quo, whether supporting a victim, talking to a young person about consent, or tackling a harasser, can start a ripple that impacts wider attitudes. 


Granddaughter Of Emmeline Pankhurst, Dr Helen Pankhurst, protests at parliament in 2012 (Picture: Getty)
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