Trigger Warning: Murder, violence against women and girls,
The International Day for Elimination of Violence, marked in calendars on 25th November, signals the beginning of 16 Days of activism ending on 10th December with Human Rights Day. The days are signified as a global unified call to eliminate violence against women and girls around the world. In remembrance of the Mirabel sisters who fought hard for justice and liberation of their people and their land in the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship, resisting his rule. On 25th November 1960, Patricia, Minerva and Maria Teresa were murdered by people ordered by Rafael Trujillo. They were clubbed to death and their murder was staged to look like an accident. This sparked public outrage which eventually led Rafael Trujillo’s assassination 6 months later. The Mirabel sisters and their sacrifice continues to be commemorated every year on this day.
Historically around the world, women have been at the forefront of resistance. They continue to fight injustice to bring about change to achieve equality for all individuals for generations to come. This is no different in Wales. Amidst the rolling hills and storied valleys, a group of extraordinary women emerged from the shadows, armed with courage, determination, and an unshakeable belief in the power of change. These were the Welsh suffragettes, the unsung heroes of a bygone era whose contributions paved the way for the rights and freedoms we hold dear today. On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, let us delve into the stories of these remarkable women, each with her indelible mark on the fight for equality. We not only celebrate their triumphs but also witness the enduring legacy carried forth by the incredible women in Wales today, pioneering for change with their activism.
- Margaret Haig Thomas: The Indomitable Spirit
In the annals of history, Margaret Haig Thomas, or Viscountess Rhondda’s, name shines as a beacon of unyielding resolve. Not content with the limitations imposed on women of her time, Lady Rhondda was instrumental in founding the Six Point Group, an organisation dedicated to women’s suffrage. She even faced imprisonment for her courage to demand equality. Margaret Haig Thomas was instrumental in pushing for legal reforms that aimed to protect women, including laws against domestic violence. Her tireless efforts and unwavering resolve helped pave the way for women’s rights in Wales. Her legacy endures as a testament to the power of determination and the pursuit of justice.
- Megan Lloyd George: The Political Prodigy
Megan Lloyd George, the daughter of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, was no stranger to the corridors of power. A trailblazer in her own right, Megan was a prominent figure in the suffragette movement, using her position to advocate for women’s rights on a political stage. She campaigned in Welsh, as part of the Anglesey constituency and went on to become the first ever female MP in Wales. Her eloquence and determination were instrumental in garnering support for the cause, making her a crucial figure in the fight for equality.
- Millicent Mackenzie: The Voice of Reason
In the cacophony of voices demanding change, Millicent Mackenzie stood out as a voice of reason and strategic thinking. She was the first female professor in Wales and the first to be appointed to a fully chartered university in England. Her role in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was characterised by her ability to bridge divides and find common ground. Her tireless efforts to coordinate and mobilise suffragettes across Wales and beyond played a pivotal role in the movement’s success. She committed to an open policy towards women students and staff in the teaching profession.
- Annie Powell: The Fearless Organizer
Annie Powell’s name is synonymous with courage and unrelenting dedication. A fervent suffragette, she was known for her tenacity in organising rallies, protests, and marches. Her fearlessness in the face of opposition galvanized the movement, inspiring countless women to join the cause. Annie’s contribution was not only in her actions but in the fire she ignited within others.
- Betty Campell: Advocate for multicultural education
Betty Campbell, who passed away in 2017, was a leading advocate for multi-cultural education in Cardiff’s Bute town community and was also Wales’ first black headteacher. She was a fierce advocate for local communities, committed to ensuring diversity was included in the practice.
- Molly Fenton: Campaigner for change
Founder of the Love Your Period campaign, Molly is a 20 year-old from Cardiff, who campaigns to end period poverty and stigma. She has petitioned the government to make it a legal obligation for period product manufacturers to label ingredients in their packaging. She aims to tackle period poverty over Wales and much of the global population as well.
- Rocio Cifuentes: Champion for refugee rights
Rocio Cifuentes spent her childhood as a refugee in Swansea and she is now a fierce advocate for child rights, becoming the current Children’s Commissioner for Wales in 2022. As a social worker for migrant and refugee rights, she paved the way for a more inclusive and equitable Wales. She was the Chief Executive for Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales and also served on the Wales Commitee for Equality and Human Rights Commission.
- Meena Upadhyaya: Changing landscape in medical genetics
Originally from India, Professor Meena moved to Cardiff when she was nineteen. Thirty-five years later, she conducted groundbreaking research in developing pre-natal diagnosis for life threatening diseases for which she was awarded the OBE.
The legacy of Welsh suffragettes lives on in the fierce determination and unwavering spirit of modern Welsh women. From the world stage to local communities, these trailblazers are reshaping the narrative, proving that no dream is too big and no challenge too daunting. It is particularly important to acknowledge the contributions of Welsh women of colour, who navigate the complexities of intersecting identities and continue to break barriers.
As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, let us draw inspiration from these remarkable women and recommit ourselves to the ongoing struggle for equality, justice, and empowerment. Together, we will continue to build a Wales where every woman’s voice is heard, her worth acknowledged, and her potential is realised.