Dr Helen Pankhurst and the Closing of the xChange Festival

Finishing on wise words and positivity while wrapping up an amazing festival.


As a symbol to many as being the epitome of women’s rights activism, Dr Pankhurst is the descendants of the Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst who were activists in the British suffragette movement. Professor Diane Kemp led the discussion with Dr Helen Pankhurst for the last talk of the xChange Festival.

While Dr Pankhurst has a famous family name, that didn’t necessarily make her want to follow suit. Being brought up between Ethiopia and the United Kingdom, Dr Pankhurst had experienced two completely different lives.

“There’s nothing more powerful than seeing different societies and understanding social norms the parallels and differences across the societies so I think that was the most formative influence,” Dr Pankhurst says about what influenced her to follow somewhat in her family’s footsteps.

Dr Pankhurst among many achievements has written a book, ‘Deeds not Words’ which was published in 2017 with a revised edition that is available now. In her book she discusses women’s rights through the ages and thinks critically whether or not things have changed, with a score at the end of each chapter.

Professor Kemp steered the discussion towards the chapter on money, a poignant topic recently in the media over equal pay for women.

“I start by looking at the fact that women have always worked it’s just the undervalued parts of women’s labour, so they used to talk about women and the five C’s: Care, Cleaning, Cooking, Cashier, and Clerical. All low level and low pay, because it’s linked to the home it’s undervalued,” Dr Pankhurst speaks about past stereotypes that have still maintained a presence throughout the years.


The title of Dr Pankhurst’s book ‘Deeds not words’ is a large part of the equality for women cause. Prof Kemp talked to Dr Pankhurst about her idea that women need to do something about the inequality rather than just complain about it. She talks about the structure she has seen when things finally change.

“There are three aspects that result in change, there is the agency of individuals. The actions of individuals that either perpetuate ideas or when you challenge them…then there are the social norms. The ideas in society, the traditions that fluff around us and it affects what we do and how we think, and then there are structural and legal changes…and when we talk about equal pay all three are happening,” Dr Pankhurst explained.

The talk with Dr Helen Pankhurst was thought-provoking and inspiring but only scratched the surface of what women can do to change inequality in the world. Following a few questions from the audience, Prof Kemp thanked Dr Pankhurst who had her books for sale and a chance for her to sign it for you.


Dr Kate Carruthers Thomas took centre stage and thanked everyone who was involved and who helped make the festival a reality. Special thanks went to Sharlea Sykes who created the traveling sash; and the graphics team Amy Blackford, Jess Hughes and Ruth Yeates who designed the visual identity of the festival.

“When originally planning this festival, I wanted to create something as far away as possible from a momentary dutiful compliant acknowledgment of International Women’s Day, and as far away as possible from anything that could be accused of being tokenistic. What I wanted to do was to try to make this in multiple ways and spheres in which women experience inequality today… responding to, thinking about and acting on those inequalities, that can’t possibly be done in a day and it can’t be done in a month either,” Dr Carruthers Thomas said.



Closing the festival we had the pleasure of listening to a choir who sang ‘March of the Women’ by Ethel Smyth and their own creations ‘Songs for Ethel’ and ‘More Women.’

DSC03789 Whether it can’t be done in a day or month, we all thank Dr Carruthers Thomas for her hard work and great vision for this festival. It was not only educational, but it was motivational, inspirational and very needed, not only in Birmingham City University or even Birmingham but everywhere. Hopefully, this is a festival that becomes a tradition and a constant reminder to women that we can achieve change and we can influence the future.


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