In a broom cupboard in Westminster
a long, long, time ago,
a young woman hid among the dust
in secret, just to show
that spaces must include her too -
her presence there was valid.
And as the sun went down
she sat alone, all night long within the dark,
cross legged on her petticoats,
so that she could make her mark.
And when the paperwork came around next day,
she signed her name with pride and said:
‘You’ll see upon this census, that I exist.
Your banishment was defied.
Here upon this census
my name shall turn the tide.
This House is not just a male space,
because last night, I think you’ll find,
a woman dwelt inside.
We want our votes, we want our rights
we will not be denied.’
Because before the House of Commons,
the one we have today,
the one where Emily Wilding Davison
demanded she have her say,
there was no space in public life
for women to have a voice,
they were shut up and shackled up,
no rights, no self, no choice.
And there was a different
set of bricks back then,
sat beside the Thames,
an olden palace that dated back
to ancient Norman times.
And debates were lit by candles,
and the candles that were there
were so many, that they were placed
on a heavy chandelier.
And the chandelier was rigged right up,
hung way up above the chamber,
collecting grease and wax and wicks,
and sparks were a real danger.
So, cut above these candles
was a big hole above the flames,
with a chimney in the rooftop
to take the heat out of their games.
A grated tunnel that rose up high,
high up inside the loft,
up above the Lords,
the Tories, Whigs and Toffs.
But women, as you know,
are slippery, wily creatures
and they quickly learned,
as women will, to exploit
these architectural features.
They found that if they bribed the doormen
and took the route up the back stairs,
they could get right up, inside the loft
and in silence, unawares,
they lifted up their heavy skirts,
tiptoed over the creaking boards
and gathered around this ventilator,
furious at being ignored.
And as they spied down through
the flaming candled grate,
they strained to hear the snatches
of the men’s baying and debate.
And as the state sat in below
they had no idea,
that gathered above their heads
were women, with no fear.
A circle of brave spectators
that they would eventually have to hear.
And the men’s shouts drifted way up high,
shouts of: ‘Order! Order! Order!’
And the women sat, indignant:
‘One day history won’t ignore us.’
And now we have a chamber that is
somewhere nearer fair,
since Nancy Astor joined the house,
the first female MP to take her seat there,
but still when women take their space
among the parliamentary benches,
they are still outnumbered 2 to 1
they are still token in the trenches.
There are 650 seats in the House of Commons
the women take 208,
and when these women contribute
to matters of the state,
regardless of political agenda,
and the arguments they make,
it’s a sorry fact, that those speaking up
are considered easy prey
for abuse, vitriol and anger,
they are targeted every day.
They are scapegoated,
sometimes even worse.
And asked what keeps them going,
some say: ‘it’s just sheer rage.’
Deep seated fury fans their fire,
they are no longer happy to be caged.
And where does this leave me and you,
the people on the street?
Where are the spaces we can claim?
The spaces we can meet?
It’s not just in formal structures
that our voices must be heard,
we must stand up to be being silenced,
not accept less than what we deserve.
Use your mind, use your will
make them hear your words.
Tell that bully to address their tone,
make them aware that you have rights,
smile in the face of the EDL,
march to reclaim the night,
occupy empty spaces
and don’t give up the fight.
Find your space, make your speech,
use your voice loud, strong and clear
we demand equality,
we are women and we are here.