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The new movie Suffragette presents a fascinating glimpse of political activist Emmeline Pankhurst.

Played by Meryl Streep, Pankhurst holds forth from a London balcony, whipping up the crowd below with a fiery speech about women’s self determination.

“We are fighting for a time in which every little girl born into the world will have an equal chance with her brothers,” she proclaims. “Never underestimate the power we women have to define our own destinies.”

It’s striking to watch Pankhurst’s fiery oratory and reflect on how seldom we see women in history using the power of speech to ignite a crowd and sway opinion.

In fact we don’t have many examples of women making speeches at all before modern times. There’s Elizabeth I rallying her troops at Tilbury in 1588, and women’s rights activists like Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – but few others.

That’s why Denise Graveline decided to showcase women’s speeches in the wonderful Eloquent Woman blog.

Even today we still don’t have nearly enough women speakers at conferences, debates and other speaking events. Women make up more than half the world’s population, so what does it mean when their insights, talents and wisdom aren’t being heard?

Suffragette centers on the women’s suffrage movement in the U.K. in 1912. Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a washerwoman in London’s East End who’s  unmoved by the cause until she finds out she’s being paid a third of what the men in the laundry are making.

She hears Pankhurst speak and is enthralled. Won over by a vision of a better life, she joins the suffragettes. Her husband kicks her out of the house and puts their son up for adoption.

Maud loses her family, her job and her home, but near the end of the film she finds her voice in a confrontation with a police inspector.

“What are you gonna do?” she asks him. “Lock us all up? We’re in every home. We’re half the human race. You can’t stop us all.”

At the end of Suffragette, while the credits are rolling, a timeline shows the dates when women in countries around the world were given the right to vote.

At the bottom of the list is Saudi Arabia, where women only won that right this week. Sadly there are no outspoken female speakers in the conservative Saudi kingdom – it’s far too dangerous.

When will Saudi Arabia get its own Emmeline Pankhurst?

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