Emily Davison was an activist who fought for women’s suffrage in Britain. She was jailed nine times and force-fed 49 times. She is best known for stepping in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, where she sustained injuries that resulted in her death four days later.
Her funeral was organized by the Women’s Social and Political Union, and thousands of suffragettes accompanied the coffin as tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London while the coffin was taken to the family grave.
Modern historians don’t believe Davison was trying to commit suicide. They believe she was trying to draw attention to her cause. A 2013 analysis of newsreel supports this idea. It appears that Davison was reaching up to attach a scarf to the bridle of the King’s horse.
Today, the equality section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly permits affirmative action for and by women. Thankfully, we don’t have to die for our cause. The hardworking and dedicated women of previous generations did the incredibly difficult work of getting the equality movement off the ground. Today, we simply have to find the courage to stand up and say what we believe in.
It’s important we do that. While the Canadian Employment Equity Act requires employees in federally-regulated industries to give preferential treatment to women, people with disabilities, aboriginal people, and visible minorities, there are no such laws in Ontario. Corporations, political organizations, businesses and school boards are allowed to hire and promote whomever they’d like. It’s okay in the eyes of the law in Ontario that predominantly male teams lead.
Finding the courage to step up and speak out can be a scary prospect for some. We can look to Zita Cobb to motivate and inspire us. After a successful career in the dot-com industry, Cobb retired at 43, and set aside millions of dollars to rebuild her home island – Fogo Island, NFLD – where she lived until she was 16.
She began by creating a scholarship, but at a town hall meeting, she was told that she was encouraging people to leave the island rather than building a healthy place for them to stay. This comment brought an enormous epiphany into Cobb’s life. She realized she had moved from “me” to “we” in her thinking which was good, but she hadn’t thought about “all of us” which would be even better.
Instead of becoming defensive at the critique, Cobb and her brothers recognized their error and established ShoreFast Foundation where they put their funds into revitalizing the island instead.
When asked what a hero is, Cobb said a hero is someone who stands in the wind when others retreat to safer places, someone who refuses to be flattened, or refuses to settle for mediocrity.
She is grateful to her father because he showed her how to stand in the wind. She is also grateful to the woman who challenged her about the scholarship program. If it weren’t for the challenge and her ability to stand in the wind, Fogo Island would not have been rebuilt.
Debbie L. Kasman
Author Lotus of the Heart: Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul