Living Knowledge blog

04 November 2020

Unfinished Business: Leeds Weekender

An illustration of women holding placards with feminist slogans on them.

Rhian Isaac
Rhian Isaac

The British Library has long collaborated with Leeds Libraries through programmes such as the Business and IP Centre (BIPC) and the Living Knowledge Network. With our growing culture and learning programme in the region, Rhian Isaac, Collections Manager at Leeds Libraries, details our latest Leeds Libraries partnership for our latest exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights.

After the success of our previous Leeds Libraries and British Library exhibition partnerships (Harry Potter: A History of Magic and Making Your Mark: 5,000 Years of Written History) we were excited about working together again on Unfinished Business. Leeds has a strong history of female activism from the fight for suffrage, Reclaim the Night marches, union strikes for fairer working conditions to the current campaign to make Leeds the first women-friendly city. This was a great opportunity to share these stories.

A book called "Fight like a Girl" and an embroidered portrait of a woman.

To develop our programme, I met with lots of different groups, from a book club with 11 year-old girls through to older people’s groups to chat about how far things had changed for women and whether there was anything left to achieve. In every group there were examples of women who pushed back against restrictions and stereotypes.

One woman told us about being asked if she had her husband’s permission when she went to the family clinic in 1965 for the pill. She hadn’t told her husband, but already had two boys and couldn’t afford more children. Another woman remembered the girls being made to sit at the back of the classroom knitting whilst the boys studied. After complaining, she was allowed to join the boys and ended up excelling in algebra and foreign languages.

The Ripper Murders are still very much in living memory in the Leeds area. They had a profound impact on women’s lives and led to the first Reclaim the Night march in 1977. Victim-blaming and violence against women remains a concern amongst the women we spoke to.

Demonstrating women

At workshops with high school students, worries about social media and body image made me think that there were new challenges for girls to face, but overall I felt optimistic watching them paint feminist slogans to take home. 

Cardboard banner saying "Girls have qualities!"
Inspired by Unfinished Business, Leeds Libraries and Studio12 have curated an online exhibition highlighting Leeds’ unique contribution to the campaign for gender equality and featuring important books connected to the wider history of women’s rights. The exhibition spans over 300 years from the poetry of Katherine Philips in 1669, through to the activism of the 70s and 80s and culminating in the work of contemporary local spoken word artists.

In addition, we are thrilled to be hosting an incredible weekender of online events developed with the British Library. These events celebrate the achievements of women past and present but also encourage us to reflect on the work that still needs to be done. Now, more than ever, it is so important to recognise women still experience inequality because of their sexuality, gender identity, class or race and libraries have a role in ensuring the fight for all women’s rights continues.

Unfinished Business: Leeds Weekender events

Spoken Word Showcase
Thursday 19 November 2020, 19.00 – 21.00

Khadijah Ibrahiim

Hosted by the renowned literary activist, writer and playwright Khadijah Ibrahiim, this special event features poets and artists from Yorkshire. We’ll begin with a panel discussion exploring women’s voices, activism and the fight for a fairer world featuring guest poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan followed by performances from emerging and established artists. Book now

Writers in Conversation
Friday 20 November 2020, 19.00 – 20.30

Tracy Chevalier, Nikita Lalwani and Stephanie Scott

For this in conversation event, novelists Tracy Chevalier, Nikita Lalwani and Stephanie Scott will read extracts from their latest works and take part in a panel discussion led by journalist Yvette Huddleston. Book now

A Mixed Reality Portrait
Saturday 21 November 2020, 17.00 – 18.00

Woman wearing virtual reality goggles

Watch live as artist Rosie Summers brings art to life, creating a portrait of the inspirational primatologist Alison Jolly, who features in our major exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights. Book now

 Wikithon: Women in Leeds
Sunday 22 November 2020, 13.00 – 15.00

Victorian cartoon

Celebrate some of the amazing women of Leeds past and present, by learning how to edit pages on Wikipedia and address its gender imbalance in this informal workshop. Book now