Walking West from Waterloo along the banks of the Thames, with Westminster Bridge within reach, I found myself standing at the foot of the statue dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst.
As I payed my respects, I noticed the stream of passers by seemingly unaware of its presence, and the lack of any tribute or adornment around the statues base. Did this mean that the woman who inspired and united the will of women to take action to be recognized and respected, is no longer alive in the consciousness of women today? Or are there still those amongst us actively ensuring that feminist issues, are brought into the public spotlight through direct action?
My first encounter of women united under one cause and purpose, was while serving at RAF Greenham Common during the mid eighties.
I was somewhat naive, coming from a small fishing village in West Wales, where values were very much stagnated in traditional roles and archetypes. The military organization I had joined, was itself a personification of male superiority and the systemic prejudice and control of women.
Arriving at the floodlit gates of Greenham Common, the conditioning that had effectively altered my perception of individuality, was to receive a jolt of reality as crowds of women erupted from their shelters, yelling and chanting slogans, as paint daubed signs and banners slid down the window of our sanitized cocoon.
Deployed to a the perimeter base, my sentry point overlooked the miscellany and humanity of a women’s protest camp. Soon our dictated evidence of threat and insurgency, compiled to ensure my vigilance, was palpably challenged by an array of women for whom through six degrees of separation, could have been me if life’s paths had been differently influenced.
Much later in a brief moment of contact, I was to gain a profound insight to the strength and commitment of these women, one night during the summer of 1987. The route of my patrol coincided with a protester who’s attempt to gain entry to the base had caused her to become disorientated.
Very aware that encountering a member of the American security force could result in her death, I calmly identified myself, and explained the danger she was in. No more than 25 years old, thin, visibly shaking, I gestured to her to kneel to give a smaller silhouette. Giving her food from my pouches, ironically liberated earlier from the American mess hall, I reassured her and asked how the protesters were so determined, she whispered as she eat “Women give the life, women bring the peace”.
Though my duty was to arrest her and hand her to my next in command, I lead the woman to the safety of a side gate, she thanked me as she disappeared into the blackness. For me, existing within the controlled repressed environment, ready if necessary to take lives, was a world away from these self actualized, autonomous women, who when necessary, were ready to give their lives to bring an end to weapons of the most awful purpose.