Dr Helen Pankhurst, a campaigner and activists who said “women’s rights run in my veins” was today made an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by Edge Hill University.
Helen, who is CARE International UK’s campaign ambassador, is the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, leaders in the British suffragette movement. She has worked tirelessly for over 25 years in the fields of international development and humanitarian assistance, pioneering women’s rights in East Africa.
She is a Senior Technical Advisor for the Water Team of CARE USA with a remit of support to CARE’s water sector work internationally. She was born in Ethiopia and worked there for three years as the Country Representative for WaterAid. She has also worked as Head of International Programmes at WOMANKIND Worldwide and as the Regional Programme Officer in the Horn of Africa at the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD).
On International Women’s Day in 2014, Helen launched the Walk in Her Shoes campaign which draws attention to the gruelling trups made by women and girls in rural dry lands who spend up to 12 hour each day collecting enough water for their families to live.
You can listen to a podcast with Helen here:
Helen’s academic background has been varied, having started in a French school, then an international one, and having been to British (Sussex, Edinburgh) and American (visiting scholar at Vassar) universities. She has a social science PhD (Economics, Anthropology, Sociology and Politics).
Speaking to the students graduating this morning and destined to be the teachers of the future, she said:
“With your degree you have something which is of much greater value than the formal knowledge of the subject you have studied. It raises you up and provides a greater range of skills than you would have had otherwise, and the great capacity for doing good through public service.
“From time immemorial, the dedication and commitment people have given to public service has made the world a better place.”
Following the Olympic Opening Ceremony in London 2012 where 50 women wearing the purple, white and green sash of the British Suffragette movement took part to signify to millions of viewers the importance of women’s collective action, Helen led a march on Parliament featuring dozens of the performers, reminding MPs that significant progress was still to be made on women’s equality.
However, recently Helen has pointed out that more immediate means are available to activists than organised rallies. She has spoken about how individual and collective action facilitated by social networking is spearheading a change in the norms, “forcing the establishment to get moving and transform society into one that is more decent and enabling for all.”
Talking specifically about feminism, she said: “I feel that the power of social media to allow people to make a difference in a positive way is phenomenal.” However she added “It’s the same social media that has allowed pornography to flourish, as well all the dangers, the trolls and misogyny.”