We have to demand and ensure equality of life outcomes

543 words, approx. 5 minutes to read

In part two of her interview with Lyla Penman, Hazel Reeves talks about empowerment and equality ahead of International Women’s Day.

In our last blog Hazel Reeves talked about becoming the sculptor of Manchester’s newly unveiled statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Until ‘Our Emmeline’, 16 out of 17 statues across the city were men, the single woman being Queen Victoria; her statue in Piccadilly Gardens was unveiled over 100 years ago, before women even had the right to vote.

Hazel’s been involved in women’s rights activism globally, and we wanted to find out more. We asked her about what being a woman means to her and what she feels is needed to create female empowerment in the workplace.

Our network seeks to empower women, and encourages our members to push for equality – what does empowerment and equality mean to you as a woman?

When I worked promoting gender equality, I had colleagues who spent a lot of time tousling with definitions of empowerment in relation to women. So I thought I would cheat and nick one of their definitions (from Rosalind Eyben, Naila Kabeer and Andrea Cornwall in 2008): ‘Empowerment is fundamentally about power – about the power to redefine our possibilities and options and to act on them, the power within that enables people to have the courage to do things they never thought themselves to be capable of, and the power that comes from working alongside others to claim what is rightfully theirs’. And it can’t be a top-down process.

For me, gender equality and women’s empowerment is about transformation – transforming gender power relations. It’s not enough to give women equal opportunities to men as there isn’t a level playing field. We have to demand and ensure equality of life outcomes. This means we first have to challenge discrimination and violence against women, and we have to challenge limiting gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes and behaviour.

I’m sure Aspire is much-needed. I’ve yet to find an organisation where [a network of this kind] is not needed. The time is right to push harder for gender equality – remember that there is no justice without gender justice.

What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and how did it shape who you are?

It wasn’t advice as such, but I saw my mum, only educated until she was aged 14, do spectacular things in addition to bringing up me and my two sisters. She was a racing cyclist and won medals in national races. She founded and ran a bird hospital for over 40 years. She was a book collector and bric-a-brac dealer. She did a BA in her 60s at Surrey University. She showed me that women could do whatever they put their mind to, and not only that – they could excel.

A piece of advice I received later in life was actually a quotation by George Eliot on a greetings card. She says ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ It was a risk changing career from a well-paid research manager promoting women’s rights, to becoming an artist. But George Eliot inspired me all the way, and now I’m very happy as a full-time sculptor, working to commission, doing what I should have always done but not regretting my rather convoluted route to my final destination.

For more information on the WoManchester project, visit https://www.womanchesterstatue.org/.

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For the design of the statue I wanted to show Emmeline as the courageous, determined, dignified and elegant activist she was

548 words, approx. 4 minutes to read

Sculptor Hazel Reeves talks to Lyla Penman about creating Manchester’s new statue of Emmeline Pankhurst.

As International Women’s Day fast approaches (8 March), we’ve started to think about the women who inspire us and the impact that empowered women in history have had on our everyday lives.

Hazel Reeves is the sculptor behind the recently unveiled Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. Working from her studio in the West Sussex countryside, she does a lot of work to promote women’s rights internationally. As well as creating the bronze of Emmeline for Manchester, she’s made other artworks celebrating women, including one of women biscuit factory workers, the Cracker Packers, for Carlisle. In this first blog, she talks about what Emmeline – both statue and figure – means to her.

What made you enter the competition for the Emmeline Pankhurst commission?

I saw the call for artists and immediately knew I had to apply. I’m never happier than when I’m combining my passion for portraiture with telling stories of struggles for social justice and redressing the lack of representation of women in public art. Emmeline is a hero of mine, of Manchester’s, and of women’s rights advocates across the world. Easy.

What does Emmeline’s legacy mean to you?

I admire her courage and tenacity in the face of sometimes violent resistance and her ability to inspire women of all classes to rise up and demand the vote. She brought about new forms of activism and pioneered concerns that became central to feminism later in the century.

Gaining the vote and enabling women to stand for public office weren’t just end goals but a route towards women shaping the decisions that affect their lives, challenging and changing discriminatory legislation and carving out space for women to be whatever they want to be. My choices and achievements in life have been hugely advanced by the sacrifices of the suffragettes and suffragists.

It’s befitting that the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – affectionately known as ‘Our Emmeline’ – was unveiled on 14 December 2018, the centenary of when the first women voted in a general election in 1918. Despite this, both my grandmothers had to wait until 1928 before they were able to vote.

What impact do you want the statue to have and how did you include that in your design?

I wanted the statue to highlight Emmeline Pankhurst’s extraordinary contribution to progressing women’s rights, and remind us of Manchester’s radical legacy as the birthplace of Emmeline and the suffragette movement. But I also wanted her back on Manchester’s streets, to be a catalyst, to move people to action. We need her as much as ever to inspire us all – women and men – to rise up and demand gender equality and demand the end to violence against women. I dedicated the statue to our modern-day Emmelines, who are tirelessly working for women’s rights, and to the future generations of Emmelines.

For the design of the statue I wanted to show Emmeline as the courageous, determined, dignified and elegant activist she was. The scene is one Emmeline would be very familiar with – the suffragettes are ringing bells, summoning people from their homes and workplaces, to listen to Emmeline. Someone grabs a kitchen chair as a makeshift rostrum and the 5ft Emmeline climbs atop and addresses the noisy crowds, urging women to rise up and demand the vote. This design nods to the work she has done but also to the work that is left to be done.

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