Catherine Fookes shares news of a campaign to celebrate the women of Wales
Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales exists to champion the rights of women and girls in Wales and to bring about gender equality. Of course, there are many ways to tackle the economic, social and political barriers to equality that women in our country face:
- Some of them are about lobbying for a change in policy – which we do – for example we’ve recently launched our Manifesto for Women and Girls in Wales
- Some of them are about running a mentoring scheme and giving women confidence – which we do
- Some are about encouraging people to join our network, as together we are stronger – which we do
- And some of them must be about inspiring the next generation of suffragettes, campaigners and feminists to keep breaking down those barriers and normalising women’s successes.
Our wonderful new campaign- 100 Welsh Women – sits firmly in the last camp. With the centenary of some women getting the vote, we thought it was imperative to put Welsh women and their contribution to both our history, and to present day Wales, on the map. When I started talking to people about this project, I was amazed as some of them said we wouldn’t find 100 Welsh Women who had made an impact on Welsh history. And that perception was reflected in all the lists I had seen celebrating ’50 Welsh heroes’, top 10 best sports people, etc. All were lists dominated by men.
BUT Welsh history was not just made by Owain Glyndwr, Aneurin Bevan and Lloyd George. It was not just made by Gareth Edwards, Tom Jones and Roald Dahl.
It was made by Betty Campbell, the first BME headteacher in Wales, Eirwen Gwynn, writer and Welsh nationalist, Frances Hoggan, the first Welsh woman physician, and Lady Rhondda, the suffragette who was an early feminist and the first woman President of the Institute of Directors. Welsh history was made by the likes of Rose Crayshaw, campaigner for education for girls, Joan Coke, the first female police constable, Sarah Jane Rees ( Cranogwen) and many many other women that make up our list of 100 from the past.
We chose to have both contemporary and historical women on our list, as WEN Wales strongly believes that it isn’t just about the past. The past is of course incredibly important and we must celebrate it, but for us it’s also about the amazing work women are doing right now that deserves celebrating. Those women alive now and on the list can serve as role models that our young women and members of WEN Wales growing up in Wales today can reach out to and connect with. People like Hayley Gomez, astrophysicist, and Cynthia Ogbonna, Director of Cardiff Bus, who are both succeeding in very male-dominated areas.
Women like BAFTA award-winning film director Rungano Nyoni; Deirdre Beddoe, one of the co-founders of the Women’s Archive Wales; Anne Ellis, former GB and Welsh hockey captain and coach; Mavis Nicholson, an award-winning journalist who interviewed David Bowie; and Gaynor Legall, the first BME woman councillor in Wales.
These 100 women could have been 500, so I am sure the list will cause some controversy, as some of your favourite women, some of those women you think have made an enormous impact, may have been left off. Our starting point was to ask: was this woman just doing her day job or did she make an impact bigger than that? Does she embody the spirit of Wales? Was she the first woman to break down a particular barrier or to smash through a ceiling? Was she a woman whose work has crossed international boundaries? Other considerations included getting a regional spread across Wales and ensuring we had a good split across our six categories:
- Politics and social reform
This is just the start though. There are so many women that deserve to be on this list, and we will add to it and do a second-round or additions to the list next year. So do join the conversation using our hashtags #100WelshWomen and #100MenywodCymreig and tell us who would make your list.
We were determined that this project would also have a legacy, not just in the website we have created www.100Welshwomen.wales / www.100menywodcymreig.cymru/ but also in our very own Welsh statue of a real woman outside in Cardiff. A shortlist for the Top 5 Historical Women shortlist is going to be drawn up, and a public vote will decide who will have a statue in Central Square. But let’s not stop at one statue. We want swimming pools and sports centres and community centres named after some of our 100. We want to see more streets named after women across Wales, we want to see bridges and our urban spaces properly depicting women. So this campaign is only the start.
Young women today need to see role models everywhere on the streets. At WEN Wales we are excited to be part of the movement to properly recognise what our suffragette sisters started 100 years ago, movement that should involve all of us speaking up and celebrating the women on this list and championing them at every opportunity.
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