Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights Exhibition

Today’s debates on women’s rights are rooted in a long history of activism. Women and their allies around the world have fought for gender equality with passion, imagination and tenacity. Despite their efforts, not all women enjoy the same rights, depending on their race, class, disability, sexuality or the way they express their identity. The fight for a better world is unfinished business. Focusing on the United Kingdom, this exhibition shines a light on some of the extraordinary women and campaigns that insisted on change – and on those who continue to do so. But what is yet to come? Who else should be celebrated? What stories are missing?” – extract from Exhibition Guide

During my first visit to the British Library, I attended the Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights exhibition. It was a truly incredible and insightful exhibition that I think everyone should visit if they get the opportunity. It has been over three years in the making and the curators have done a fantastic job exploring the history of women’s activism in the UK through videos, objects and library records. They acknowledge they can’t tell all stories; the topic is a vast one after all, but the stories they do share are impactful. The exhibition was split into three sections: Body, Mind and Voice.

I started in Body and on display were a mixture of celebratory and shaming magazine covers. One on display was “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs it!” a ridiculous headline I’d forgotten about from 2017 which compared then Prime Minster Theresa May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s bodies rather than focusing on their politics. There was also the 2015 Beach Body Ready advertisement that sold weight loss products, which was eventually banned in the UK. Seeing these again and comparing them to the more celebratory covers definitely gave me food for thought about the information we’re digesting through the media on a daily basis.

There were some fascinating historical texts on display including A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft which argues for the education of women. There was also the diary of Sophia Duleep Singh, an exiled Indian princess, who became a suffragette. She had a really interesting life, and I definitely want to write a blog post about her someday.

Sophia Duleep Singhs’ Diary

Towards the end of the exhibition there were the research notes of writer and sociologist Ann Oakley. These I found particularly interesting as I had explored her work when studying sociology at school and university. Oakley explored housework and the division of domestic labour, with these notes covering interviews she had with housewives about their lives.

Ann Oakley’s research notes

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, as there was a lot of thought-provoking content throughout the exhibition. I liked that the curators took an intersectional approach and didn’t just focus on one perspective. Gender equality is an area I’m passionate about, and this exhibition reminded me how grateful I am for all the women who have come before me and fought for equality. I learned a lot and it inspired me to find out more and think about what else I can do in the campaign for gender equality. It’s reminded me of the importance of telling women’s stories on Some Sources Say and highlighting their importance.

The fight for women’s rights is truly unfinished business.

Have you visited this exhibition? I would love to hear your thoughts below.

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