February 2018 marked the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, a piece of legislation which began the process of granting the vote to women in the UK. Although not all women were granted the right to vote at this time, the Act opened up the franchise to some women for the first time in British history, and was the first legislative step in a series of reforms which led to full suffrage rights for all women over the age of 18 in the UK.
To commemorate this special anniversary year, Mulberry led and participated in a range of exciting activities for students in all year groups. Some of our most interesting and exciting opportunities to celebrate and reflect were offered to us by the BBC.
On Thursday 1st February, two students in Year 12 – Shazia Anjoom-Zaman and Tamanna Islam – were offered the exciting opportunity to visit the BBC Radio 1 studio and interview journalist and presenter Anita Anand about her new book on the Indian Suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh, ‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary’. A goddaughter of Queen Victoria and a powerful voice in the Suffragette movement, Sophia dedicated her life to the empowerment of women and the advancement of their rights – but her story has often been overlooked by modern historians of the suffrage movement.
Anita Anand has set the record straight with a fantastic book exploring the life and work of Sophia Duleep Singh. Tamanna and Shazia interviewed Anita about her work on Sophia’s life, and about the importance of renewing knowledge about her story and her contribution to women’s rights. This was a fantastic opportunity for our students to encounter a new role model from history, and to learn about the crucial role that women of colour in 19th century Britain played in securing the vote.
On Tuesday 6th February, we were offered an extraordinary opportunity by BBC Asian Network: the chance for our students to take part in a live radio broadcast exploring the suffrage anniversary, political participation amongst British women of colour, and to what extent British women of colour face additional challenges in society that their white peers do not have to contend with.
17 students from Years 10, 12 and 13 joined the BBC Asian Network team in the Sixth Form Library for a morning of discussion and debate. Special guests visited the programme, including Labour politician Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Conservative Councillor Gurjit Kaur-Bains, campaigners Rabiya Baig and Shani Dhanda, and comedian Guz Khan.
Our Headteacher and CEO of the Mulberry Schools Trust, Dr Vanessa Ogden, opened the programme by reflecting on how the East End has always been an important epicentre in the struggle for women’s rights, from the earliest Suffragette societies to the campaigning work being led by our own students and community members. Students took part in a passionate discussion about access, inclusion, their own experiences with challenging stereotypes other people hold about Muslim women, and the incredible power of young women of colour to push forward positive social change. Students reflected on how older generations of women in our community have always been important role models to them, and advocates for their own right to achieve their dreams: many students mentioned their mothers, aunts and older female cousins as important decision-makers within the family and community, who encourage their younger relatives to speak up and ensure that they are heard.
Students reflected on the challenges that they and other women of colour continue to face in society, and on what must be done – and by whom – in order to ensure that every girl, of every racial, ethnic or cultural background, has the fullest possible opportunity to thrive.
At lunchtime, a range of activities were offered to the wider school community. Students were able to visit a stall at break time to decorate gingerbread women: using icing pens, they iced the qualities of inspirational women that they admire on to the gingerbread women and then took them away to eat as a way of internalising the qualities they most admire in others.
Students were also able to visit a nail bar where staff applied transfers depicting inspirational women to students’ nails. Whilst having their nails done, students could engage in conversations about role models, and about the historic significance of ‘women’s work’.
All students were encouraged to practise their democratic rights by visiting a voting station to select a design for a commemorative badge: the winning design can be seen on the final page of this edition of the Berry Bugle. Badges were made to this design for every girl in the school, and handed out at our final International Women’s Day celebration on 23rd March.
Students were also led in activities about the history of the suffrage movement during morning registration – and all students were welcomed into school for the day by a rousing rendition of The March Of The Women, the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement, played through the tannoys!
All members of staff were presented with reconstructions of Suffragette badges, which they wore around the building with pride. Staff were encouraged to give their badges away to students who they felt had demonstrated some of the qualities of inspiring women – resilience, kindness, leadership, creativity, and many other inspiring attributes which our students have in abundance, as could be seen at the end of the day when hundreds of Mulberry girls went home proudly sporting the badges given to them by their teachers.
This was a fantastic week of celebration, reflection and giving thanks. We would like to thank BBC Radio 1, BBC Asian Network and all students and staff for their hard work.
Students with the BBC Asian Network team and special guests