International Women's Day 2013: We Speak Exclusively To Dr Helen Pankhurst

08 March 2013 by

Walk In Her Shoes Campaign

March 8: International Women's Day and, Helen Pankhurst says, time to get involved with the F-word - yes, feminism. The great-grandaughter of legendary suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, spoke exclusively to GraziaDaily to tell us how important feminism is now, what needs to change - and why you should be getting involved in the Walk In Her Shoes campaign this week...

GraziaDaily: Why are you campaigning with Care International?

I’ve been an ambassador for Care, an anti-poverty charity, for about six years. In some areas of the world, there are women walking four, six, ten miles per day to collect water for their families. On the way to collecting or on the way back, they can be subjected to abuse. They’re alone, they have water that they’re trying to safeguard, it makes them vulnerable. That’s just one cost – another is being late for school or not attending school, their education is forfeited and it goes full cycle; these girls don’t even have a chance to build a better life. We want to change that.

GraziaDaily: What is life like for these women each day?

Whoever is given the task to collect the water, there is that burden for them – and a burden left behind. Imagine a house where a woman is pregnant and has to collect the water, or has a baby that the women left behind must look after. Just imagining what that burden is like: everyday, facing the task of carrying the equivalent of 20kg of weight per day – what we carry as luggage when we travel – that weight on your head or your shoulder, daily. Come rain or sun, both of which can be harsh.

There’s also the very real possibility that the water is contaminated so you know that you’re going to collect water which might well cause you diarrhoea. A thousand children per day die from diarrhoea and that’s directly related to poor water provisions – and it’s such a simple thing.

Helen Pankhurst

GraziaDaily: What does the Walk In Her Shoes campaign aim to achieve?

The campaign is partly to raise awareness of the fact that one in ten people around the world still don’t have access to clean water and it’s a burden that falls on women, often young women. It can  change through direct initiatives such as Care funding water systems in rural or urban areas which have poor access and it can change through policy changes; meaning that better governance on issues around water and higher prioritisation by local governments and national governments to make sure they address this need. We need to create pressure around it and link it to women’s rights issues. It’s such a basic need – it’s such a basic right.

GraziaDaily: How could this campaign help change women's lives?

It’s cyclical, it’s catalytic. One small change can generate many other changes too. Having clean safe water means that there are fewer ill people in the household – better water means healthier families, it means uninterrupted schooling for girls. Water facilities in schools means girls are more likely to be able to attend school even when they have their periods. Imagine a school where there’s no latrine and no water. How are girls supposed to be dealing with that when they have their cycle?

It can also help livelihoods – women can keep plots, grow food and in turn for their children provide better lives too. That basic burden too – having to walk for miles and miles in the baking sun to collect water – that basic, medieval, gruelling pain that they endure every single day: I wouldn’t want to undermine how much happier they’d be if that wasn’t there.

GraziaDaily: Feminism has become a hot topic again in the UK over the last year or so, more than usual. How important is it for us to be aware that it also needs to be intersectional; that there are women outside of the UK and the white middle class movement of feminism that we should be considering too?

Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more: for me, it’s about wherever the injustice is, wherever appalling conditions are being experienced by vulnerable people we have a duty to make the world a better place for them. Because of the greater awareness, and because the world has become a much smaller place, so that women of minorities are living next-door to us or we’re related to them.

Things like abuse with FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), forced marriage – some of the women’s rights issues now you can’t say it’s happening here and not there. It’s all linked up now, the fundamentalism in some societies affect our society here. With issues like water, that’s not so clear. It’s not so obvious because everyone has the benefits here and they don’t over there.

GraziaDaily: How can our readers help?

We’d love to see people actively campaigning, on the ground visibly engaging, getting media attention wherever they live and also fundraising. They can get involved by signing up to the Walk In Her Shoes campaign. The more we individual women in our own personal lives, take action beyond our personal reality, the more things will change. It won’t change by waiting for the government that represents us to change.

It’s not going to happen – it only will if women stand up and say it’s not acceptable that we live in a country where less than 25% of MPs are women, it’s not acceptable that we have scandal after scandal where men of power use their power to abuse vulnerable women, young boys, disabled people – it will only change if there’s a more representative situation both in parliament and in the business sector.

We need to make the change.

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