While we’re celebrating suffragettes, children are being taught they were extremists [OPINION]

suffragettes with banners
Emily Apple

During the last week, all leading politicians have praised the suffragettes. Theresa May even wore a ribbon with their colours during Prime Minister’s Questions. But the government’s Prevent agenda is teaching schoolchildren in Leicester that the suffragettes were extremists.

Nazis and suffragettes

According to Middle East Eye, a lesson plan produced in association with the Prevent counter-extremist team lists the suffragettes alongside Nazis and al-Qaeda as examples of extremists. Under the heading “extremism isn’t new”, the slide for the lesson states:

Between 1900-1910, the suffragette movement became more violent; churches were burnt down, politicians were attacked, homes were firebombed and in June 1913 Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse and died, in order to attract attention to the campaign to secure votes for women.

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Leicester Prevent coordinator William Baldet claimed:

The suffragettes are used as an example of a group which held radical views and challenged authority. The idea is to explore the concept of ‘extremism’ through history and highlight how the use of violence hinders any cause, no matter how noble.

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Prevent

Prevent is part of the government’s programme to tackle radicalisation and extremism. Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole described it as:

putting an arm around [people at risk of radicalisation]. We try and divert, allow people the opportunity to help them make better decisions.

But critics have labelled it racist and Islamophobic. And there has been widespread criticism over issues such as anti-fracking protesters being included in the training.

Celebrating our history

This week, we have rightly been celebrating the suffragettes; the actions they took and the sacrifices they made. And this means celebrating all their actions, including the window-breaking and arson. These were necessary actions, and actions that helped women get the vote.

But what is particularly disturbing about the inclusion of the suffragettes isn’t just that they are labelled extremists. It’s the implication that, had Prevent existed at the beginning of the century, suffragettes would have been targeted for de-radicalisation.

Violence did not “hinder” the suffragette movement. These weren’t women who needed ‘help to make better decisions’. And this is the fundamental problem with the Prevent programme. Protesters who take direct action over important issues are not extremists. They do not need fixing, but celebrating.

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Featured image via Ikonta Blok

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