Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights
Are you a diligent, hard working individual who does not stop until you have ‘got things done’? Or do you find that there are so many competing demands for your attention that you shift from project to project? The Unfinished Business exhibition at the British Library encompasses both mindsets.
Walking through the exhibition I was struck both by the extraordinary achievements in the struggle for women’s rights and just how much more needs to be done. Unfinished business indeed; on the positive side there are tales aplenty of the women whose actions paved the way to ensure the freedoms that we take for granted.
I came across Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to study law at Oxford University and Hope Powell, the first British woman to gain the highest European football coaching license. Then there is poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992), writing as a Black ‘lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’, whose writing burns with anger against injustice. Or Mary Macarthur, who in 1906 founded the National Federation of Women Workers to campaign for higher pay for women in many disputes. Not forgetting Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s goddaughters, who used her status to support campaigns for women’ suffrage.
All these and more will be explored further on the pages of damesnet in blogs to come.
The exhibition was both a reminder of key people and events that I knew about and enjoyed revisiting, and an introduction to what felt like countless organisations and movements. It also explores the work of contemporary activist groups working online and offline today.
Glasgow Women’s Library is the only accredited museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements. Southall Black Sisters is a not-for-profit organisation in West London established in 1979 to meet the needs of Black and minority women.
Women for Refugee Women is a London-based charity that empowers refugee and asylum-seeking women to advocate for themselves. They run activities to build skills and confidence and partner with arts organisations and influential women to amplify their voices. As someone who is proud to have co-organised the first international conference of asylum and immigration law judges, I feel a particular affinity with them.
There are fascinating graphics and charts portraying statistics, events, timelines. ‘A snapshot of feminism in the UK, 1972-1993’ is based on information from Spare Rib, the key magazine of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Another depicts the value of unpaid work, mainly done by women in the UK. There is a chart comparing equality in the UK and around the world, where there are some interesting points to notice. Topics include the proportion of women graduates in science and engineering, and those in management roles.
There are photographs, artwork, film of poets and passionate speakers; this is an exhibition that demands quiet attention. Visiting it while restrictions were in place meant that there were few people in the gallery and one could really study the information.
The exhibition runs until 1 August. For those people who cannot get to the British Library, there are displays in partner libraries across the UK, or visit the website and explore linked podcasts and digital events. All visitors to the exhibition, whether physical or virtual, are invited to share their own thoughts and experiences.
It goes without saying that for this dame the high spot was the 1979 Fiat billboard advert and accompanying graffiti. The picture says it all.