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Q&A: Dr Helen Pankhurst Shares Her Thoughts On Feminism For International Women's Day

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Dr Helen Pankhurst, 48, is the great-granddaughter of Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst (leaders of the Suffragette movement).

Born and raised in Ethiopia, she says that she only began to understand the significance of her family heritage on trips to the UK as a teenager.

She is the campaign ambassador for CARE International UK and supports both the In Her Shoes and Voices Against Violence campaign. She also blogs for The Huffington Post UK.

To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to Dr Pankhurst about feminism, social media activism and the pressures of being a Pankhurst.

dr helen pankhurst

Dr Helen Pankhurst and her daughter Laura in October 2012 on a rally organised by UK Feminista in Parliament Square to call for equal rights for men and women

What have you done today that makes you a feminist?

I'm a single mother. I have two children: a girl who will be 18 next week and a 16-year-old son.

As a feminist, not only do I support the children financially (which generations ago, thanks to right to divorce and retain a livelihood as a woman, wouldn't have been possible) but I treat my children equally, value them equally and pass on notions of gender equality.

How does being a feminist today compare to your great-grandmother's time?

In many ways it’s become a lot easier. I don’t have to put my life on the line. There’s no issue of force-feeding, there’s no issue of violence by the state for anything that I am demanding, that I am calling for. The nature of it in some ways is less extreme, I would suggest.

And the tools at our disposal are so much easier. The fact that from my laptop I can click and link up to to so many people is fantastic. And the younger you are, the more able you are to utilise that skill.

Do you think that online activism is as effective as other forms of activism?

I think we can have both. I think that there is some ranting on social media, but look at the Amazon ‘Keep Calm And Rape Her’ t-shirts, they've now been taken off. That was social media in action, a concrete result.

The No More Page 3 campaign looks like a social media campaign that, fingers crossed, is going to get somewhere.

I believe it can achieve change, absolutely.

What are your concerns for young women today?

The sexualisation of women is a new danger, which wasn't around in my great-grandmother's era.

Women and young girls feel so defined by what they look like and to dress to fit beauty norms. These pressures on are missing the point and waste energy.

What would you say to someone who believes in equality, but who doesn’t see themselves as a feminist?

It’s a pity. I understand the fear to label yourself a feminist. I think it comes from not wanting to stand out a bit. But it’s a pity. We do need to put our hands up when we see something is wrong. For me calling yourself a feminist is stronger than just saying that “I believe in equality”.

But feminists have quite a negative image, do you think that can be shaken off?

I don’t think everybody needs to be a serious feminist.

You can be feminist in so many different ways. With your interests in music - from culture to sport. Within that it needn’t be a killjoy attitude. I think we need to reclaim it and diversify the image of what a feminist is.

Does the name Pankhurst carry a lot of responsibility?

It’s a privilege that I need to live up to, by the work I do and the way I live my life. It’s a privilege for me, but I think it’s a privilege for all women that they fought for.

I'm very lucky that my parents let me explore what the name meant to me, they’ve been incredibly supportive.

What would you be doing if you weren't a Pankhurst?

I'm a jack-of-all trades really. Maybe a writer or a musician.

I would like to think I would still be involved in the feminist movement.

CARE’s Walk In Her Shoes campaign is based around International Women’s Day (8th March).

The campaign encourages UK women to walk 10,000 steps a day for a week in March, in solidarity with women and girls in the developing world who must walk many miles every day to collect water for their families. Their long, gruelling and often dangerous walks leave them with little time for paid employment or to go to school.

Funds raised by participants will support CARE, who are building wells, boreholes and standing taps close to these women and girls’ homes, giving them the time they need to go to school or work.

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