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Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes: Human rights and equality

To discuss the importance of human rights and equality and to understand that people have followed extraordinary paths to ensure that equality exists today.

by Jude Scrutton

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To discuss the importance of human rights and equality and to understand that people have followed extraordinary paths to ensure that equality exists today.

Preparation and materials

  • Monopoly money.
  • Pictures and/or videos of Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes.
  • If students have been studying the world wars, link this to the suffragettes.


  1. Ask students what they want to be when they leave school. If a boy says a doctor, tell them that that is allowed. If a girl says something like that, say no, you can’t do that.

    If they say a teacher, tell them yes, they can both be a teacher; but tell them I will pay the male £1000 more than the female (show money).

    Then tell the students that we are going to vote for a head boy or a head girl, but tell them that only the boys can vote.

    Ask the students: ‘Why am I being so mean on the girls?’
  2. Tell the students that this is what life was like for women before the First World War.

    Share the following typical comment from that period with students:

    ‘A woman’s place is in the home, doing the housework and looking after the children. She should not be allowed to become, say, a lawyer or a business manager, for her mind is not made for these things.

    Focus on the last phrase and ask the students how they feel about such sentiments, directing the students to the degrading nature of such comments and how it clearly defines the attitudes of most men and many women of the time.
  3. Ask the students if these attitudes still exist today. Discuss the fact that while sexism still occurs, it is not commonplace in our society. In fact, most kind of discrimination is against the law.
  4. Ask how these changes happened. Did they just happen or did someone or something happen to make the change?

    Tell the students that there were some people that did not agree with these sentiments. These woman were known as the suffragettes (which means ‘woman seeking the vote).
  5. Introduce the pupils to Emmeline Pankhurst, and tell the pupils that she was the leader of the movement.

    She was born in Manchester but moved to London. She was determined to get equality for woman.

    First, she tried peaceful means – writing letters, lobbying parliament and giving lectures.

    Unfortunately most men and some woman thought she was a foolish crank.
  6. Pankhurst decided that a more forceful approach was needed. She urged her followers to create a nuisance and to break the law if necessary.

    The suffragettes were ready: They hurled bricks at public speakers, smashed the windows of 10 Downing Street, slashed paintings at galleries and even chained themselves to the railings in front of politician’s houses.

    Generally they broke the law in as many ways as possible. Pankhurst went to prison many times for her actions, but still the lawmakers would not budge.
  7. Then the First World War broke out, and many of the men went off to fight. The jobs in factories, schools and hospitals were filled with woman who had previously been housewives. Pankhurst ordered the suffragettes to stop their protests and to join in with the war effort.

    During these long years of war people began to see that woman could do as well or better at these jobs than man. People’s attitudes began to change.
  8. In the last year of the war, women were given the right to vote. But only if they were older than 30. This was not enough for Pankhurst, who declared that she would not stop until they achieved equal rights to vote.

    Ten years later she achieved her aim and the law was changed to give all people over 21 the right to vote. On the day this law was passed, Emmeline Pankhurst died in a nursing home, aged 69.
  9. An extraordinary woman, who stayed alive until she achieved her goal, Emmeline Pankhurst changed the society we live in today to be better for everyone in this room.

Time for reflection

There are still areas of life in the UK (especially in religious movements), and areas abroad, where women are not considered equal to men. Think about those areas, those women who are frustrated. How can we work towards a more equal society for all?

Belief in one’s principles is very important.


Lord, help us to stand up for the forgotten, the unloved, the oppressed.

Let our actions show your love.

Help us to find ways to do this,

and let us not walk on the other side of the road and ignore the problem.


‘In Christ there is no east or west’ (Come and Praise, 66)

Publication date: October 2010   (Vol.12 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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