Drawing Parallels: 5 Lessons from the Suffragette Movement

-By Samira Haruna Sanusi

-By Samira Haruna Sanusi

The She Tank is not your ordinary platform– it is a movement of women and men who are dedicated to unlearning the negative things we have been taught about women and gender, and who are committed to taking individual and collective actions that positively influence policies affecting women. The She Tank launched in Abuja on August 11, 2018 with #PowerNOW: A Film Screening and Conversation. 
We watched the Suffragette film. This period film, set in 20th century Britain, tells the story of Maud Watts – a wife, mother and employee who later becomes an accidental activist, joining other women to fight for equality and the right to vote. Here are 5 powerful lessons I learned during the screening:

  1. Deeds not Words: Throughout the film, these words are scribbled on prison walls and placards by the women fighting for their rights, and eventually chanted as they led marches and protests to demand for a platform to be heard. ‘Deeds not words’ is a powerful theme throughout the film and is very much relatable in today’s world as women are constantly promised rights and empowerment, with no action. For the Suffragettes, chanting ‘deeds not words’ wasn’t only a protest mantra: it was an affirmation and reminder as they struggled to make sacrifices and live through experiences that would cost them everything but send a message to the world – that women deserve a right and space to be, to choose, to own, to live, to earn, to vote, to take up space.

  2. The Power of Voices: As we watched the film, we saw women from different backgrounds—pharmacist, writers, wives, mothers and public speakers—transform into activists. As diverse as they were, they had the same voice which in turn amplified their message and delivery. The panelists and guests at The She Tank launch made a beautiful collage of women and men, young and old. Attendees came in sneakers, hijabs, heels, in business suits and jump suits– from the founder herself who looked like a ‘Black Girls Rock’ ambassador, to Aisha Yesufu in a long flowy hijab. These people who are lawyers by day and bakers by night, fathers, authors, politicians, mothers in the morning and activists in the evening, husbands, media influencers, wives and fashionistas, came together with their voices to send one message – “The time is now. Women are tired of empowerment, they want #PowerNow!”

  3. The Power of Negotiation: One lesson we can all take away from the film screening and She Tank launch is that we must now re-strategize and learn to negotiate. Throughout history, women in politics and policy making have been pushed, blocked and stopped. The system has gone to great lengths to create boundaries, obstacles, challenges and sometimes punishments—all in an effort to keep women out, to take away their bargaining chip, to exclude them from the table and spaces where discussions are held, and policies are made. We must now rethink and find ways around these barricades. Most importantly, we must negotiate ways to get in and stay in and stop taking ‘no’ for an answer.

  4. Knowing our history: Our generation knows that women have suffered and sacrificed everything for all the privileges we now enjoy. However, we must learn and relearn our history. We must understand what these women gave, how much they fought, and what they did to give us a better future. Properties were seized, sons were taken, bodies were imprisoned, and lives were lost. It is my hope and prayer that the price Nigerian women pay for liberation will not be as high what the Suffragettes paid. But we must also be willing to know and understand everything they gave for what we have now. And we must ask ourselves this important question: How much do we know about and have we learned from those who fought for us to be heard? And what are we willing to give? Deeds, not words.

  5. Education is Key: Girls must go to school, regardless of what they choose to do with their lives later. One important scene from the film stands out and remains a horrifying scene that continues to play in the lives of many girls in Nigeria today. I watched and listened in horror as I heard the following words said to women: “don’t need much schooling to fold shirts.” Women have been sold the belief that they don’t need education and school because their tasks, their jobs and their purpose are domestic. In our rural communities and cultural backgrounds, we continue to see women and men who fight against sending their daughters to school, because they believe it is of no use. Everyone deserves a right to learn and seek knowledge. It is that simple.

Samira is the Founder of the Samira Sanusi Sickle Cell Foundation (SSSCF), and the Author of ‘I Wrote This For You’—a collection of essays and poems on womanhood.

Blessing Omakwu