International Women’s Day: Northern Ireland women highlighted as Amnesty launches Suffragette Spirit map

“I imagine if Emmeline and Sylvia [Pankhurst] could see this map, they would be extraordinarily moved” - Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst

Women from Northern Ireland are among those being honoured today (8 March) by Amnesty International as it launches its Suffragette Spirit Map to celebrate the incredible work being carried out by women in their communities 100 years on from first winning the vote.

For the past month Amnesty has worked to scour the country for women who embody the continuing suffragette spirit - today’s women human rights defenders.

Elaine Roden of Newtownabbey works for Women’s Aid supporting children and young people affected by domestic violence enabling them to have their voices heard, and supports vulnerable young people as a counsellor.

Trade unionist Breedagh Hughes campaigns for improved employment conditions for Royal College of Midwives members in Northern Ireland and for women to have maternity care and reproductive healthcare choices and the right to live free from the threat of domestic violence.

Heather Low coordinates the only family planning counselling service in Northern Ireland which provides information and support on all pregnancy options. Despite a difficult political climate, including constant picketing of their Belfast offices, she’s determined to offer non-directive, pro-choice counselling to women experiencing unplanned or crisis pregnancy.

The huge number of nominations and the enormous range of issues being tackled by these often unsung heroes is unprecedented. Women around the country are setting up support groups to aid refugees, tackling the issues surrounding domestic abuse through theatre, setting up initiatives to tackle bullying in schools, establishing charities to tackle period and clothing poverty, standing up for pensioners’ rights, campaigning for better facilities for disabled people.

On seeing the map, Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, who founded the Suffragette movement said:

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, there is no better time to launch this map and push these incredible women into the spotlight to be praised and recognised for their work.

“I imagine if the suffrage campaigners of old, including my great-grandmother Emmeline and grandmother Sylvia, could see Amnesty’s map, they would be extraordinarily moved. Because while together they helped set a precedent for women taking action, I doubt they would have known what their irrepressible drive and attitude would resonate 100 years later – and give visibility to women who are standing up and promoting human rights in such a varied and all-encompassing way.”

Background: Deadliest year on record?

The Suffragette Spirit campaign forms part of Amnesty’s wider Brave campaign, that launched last year and seeks to highlight the dangers facing human rights defenders around the world and afford them better protection.

Its latest report, Deadly but Preventable Attacks: Killings and Enforced Disappearances of Those who Defend Human Rights, reveals the shocking numbers of people who have been attacked, lost their lives or disappeared without trace in their fight to protect the vulnerable and improve society.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Decades on from the landmark document’s publication, fundamental human rights continue to be ignored and abused.
 
Women in particular face danger because of a so-called ‘double-discrimination’ – they are attacked for both their sex and being a human rights defender. In many cases they challenge the accepted norms and stereotypes in their society to fight injustices. Others are attacked just for where they live, such as in a war zone or where communities are in the grip of organised crime.

For more information visit www.amnesty.org.uk/brave

The Suffragette Spirit Map of Britain can be viewed at www.amnesty.org.uk/suffragettespirit

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