The women who changed Britain forever

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Veteran campaigners will gather today to tell how the act of protest transformed their lives

They transformed British society in little more than a generation – campaigning on everything from equal rights to abortion and apartheid. Today hundreds of the veteran activists from some of Britain's most famous protests, ranging from Greenham Common to the miners' strike, will gather for the first time. The worlds of social campaigning, politics and art come together today in a "Silver Action" event at the Tate Modern, London, where some 400 women campaigners aged over 60 will talk about their work. Their tweets and blogs, as well as archive footage of protests, will be projected on to walls at the event, devised by artist Suzanne Lacy, 67, herself a veteran feminist. Each has her own story:

Take Rosalind Delmar, 71, from London, a lifelong women's rights activist who was at the landmark Ruskin conference in Oxford in 1970 – the event that put Women's Lib on the map. She got into politics as a student, provoked by inequalities such as women being banned from playing pool in the student union. "I'm the kind of person who has always been interested in politics and participation, and I have kept up my interest in feminism."

And the abortion campaigner Ann Rossiter, 69, from London, is also taking part. She had a back-street abortion in London in the early 1960s, before the 1967 Abortion Act was introduced. "Breaking the silence around abortion and supporting traumatised Irish abortion-seekers who flock to Britain have been central to my political life for the past half century," she said. "I'll keep going as long as I have my faculties, and hope I'll see Ireland, north and south of the border, grant women their full reproductive rights – and on their own turf."

Jenny Stanton had an early introduction to campaigning as a protester against apartheid. Now 62 and living in Oxford, she recalled: "I'm about 15, in the Bullring in Birmingham, collecting signatures for one of my mum's petitions asking our government to stop supporting apartheid South Africa. A military-type man argues with me, saying that we – Britain – need the Simon's Town base [near Cape Town] as part of our naval defences against the Soviet threat, and it wouldn't be safe in the hands of black Africans. I feel like crying because I can't convince him." She added: "Gradually the movement inside and the movement outside overthrew apartheid – but for years and years it was lonely, small actions trying to win people round."

Anti-nuclear campaigner Stella Harding was a regular at the Greenham Common peace camp in the 1980s. The 62-year-old, who lives in London, said: "I was protesting as a mother for the protection of future generations... The feeling of strength, solidarity, sisterhood and the empowering flow of positive energy as we linked arms in the first 'embrace the base' in 1982 was a high point that left a lasting legacy."

Maggie Smith, from London, was one of the founders of the Housewives' Register in 1960. "We campaigned against capital punishment and things but we also worked on pre-school playgroups – issues that really touched you directly because we all had small children." Now 81, she said: "I suppose I've always been a campaigner, in that we were CND campaigners in the 1950s just before feminism came on the scene. Those were the days when we thought we could do something if we marched. I think it's very important to stand up and be counted for things you really believe in."

The nature of protest has changed, according to Sue Mullan, 70, from Portsmouth. "Online campaigning has been positive in certain areas but it's not profound; it's very superficial." She worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) during the miners' strike. "I had been involved in supporting miners and collecting money for them and remember the huge injustice of it. We had observers out in the field across all the relevant areas and every day they would submit a report of what they had seen. We produced a final report but the NCCL refused to allow it to be published – that was wicked."

Paula Kaniuk's "belief in equality and fairness" prompted her to support what became Britain's longest ever strike – the Silentnight strike in Lancashire in the mid-1980s which lasted 616 days. "The action started just after the miners' strike in 1984. I thought it was wrong that the Government was further attacking workers' rights and unions' power.

"I remember local radio announcing the strike, and drove straight there to support them. We continued to turn up at the picket, by then alongside many other women, who became politically active and fiercely defended the workers who welcomed us all equally," said the 62-year-old from Rochdale.

Sally Alexander, 69, made international news when she flour-bombed the Miss World final, hosted by Bob Hope at the Albert Hall in London, in 1970. Now a history professor, she said: "We were imagining it as the interruption of a TV spectacle rather than bringing beauty contests to an end." She added: "There will always be a need for protest and resistance to forms of oppression. There are spectacular one-off demonstrations, like Miss World, and sustained grass-roots organising that other sorts of campaigns need and are just as necessary."

Yvonne Craig Inskip, 76, remembers becoming a campaigner in 1968 after refusing to obey hospital rules that limited parents' visits to children to just two hours a week. She stayed by her daughter's bedside for 11 days. "That experience changed my life and got me started me on years of campaigning." She went on to lobby for safe toys and for contraception to be freely available.

"It is important to march in public for what you believe in and I have continued to march for a range of topics from asylum-seekers to the NHS," said Pat Barker, 79, from Exeter. She added: "I cannot sit still and do nothing when others are in danger, in poverty, are suffering hunger or injustice... I want to leave the world a better place for future generations."

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit