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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Photographs of Freedom

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Meg opened an exhibition of photographs by women from Hull and Sierra Leone at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. This was part of the Wilberforce Women 2007 project and the photographs are personal interpretations on the themes of Freedom, Pride, Belief and Change.

Meg’s remarks follow.

 

I am delighted to be here to open this exhibition. It’s a particular pleasure that the Lord Mayor of Hull is present and that we also have four of the women from Sierra Leone who took part in the project. Their vibrant dresses put the rest of us to shame.

Until the June re-shuffle I was the Minister for Women and Equality and one of the group of ministers co-ordinating the Government’s programme marking the 200 years anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

 

Whilst researching the campaign to abolish slavery in the late 1700s, I was struck by the vital role that woman played, even though they lacked the right to vote. The campaign techniques they came up with then were to re-appear, and be used to great effect, during the struggle for women’s suffrage.

 

As the anti-slavery campaign gained popularity, many women - ranging from the Whig aristocrat, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to the Bristol milk-woman Ann Yearsley - published anti-slavery poems and stories. Yearsley’s patron, Hannah More, was a member of a group of evangelicals associated with the anti-slavery campaign.

 

There were Female Anti-Slavery Societies across the country, including in my own city of Sheffield, where they campaigned against this injustice in the place where some of the chains which held the slaves were made. In Birmingham the female anti-slavery society continued the struggle to end slavery around the world following the Act that stopped it in the British Empire.

 

The work that Hull has done to commemorate the role of Wilberforce in the fight for abolition is inspiring and significant. The Wilberforce 2007 themes of freedom, pride, belief and change are ones that were shared by all campaigners, slaves, former slaves, parliamentarians and citizens.

 

The spirit of that campaign is needed today - whether it’s tackling inequality, discrimination and racism here or poverty in African. Certainly when campaigning to eradicate modern day slavery in all its forms.

 

In 2005 the International Labour Organisation estimated that at least 12.3 million women, men and children were bound by slavery around the world. Of this 2.4 million will have been trafficked - many women or girls for the sex trade.

 

Turning to the exhibition that you see around the room, we see photos on the themes of freedom, pride, belief and change. Women from two very different places have made contact and shared their very different lives. They have stretched the hands of friendship across the water over many miles and found things that they have in common. Their photographs show us how these four themes are present in their lives and how this project has begun to change their lives and the lives of the people around them.

 

This project is remarkable because it has allowed many women not only to express things about their lives but also to learn a skill; a skill which opens up the world for them and one that for some may also lead to employment. I can hardly begin to describe the joy and excitement of the ladies from Sierra Leone when they first walked into this room and saw their pictures professionally displayed. They cried out and literally ran across the room to see their work. Look at these photographs and see the quality of them remember some of the women who took these pictures had never before used a camera.

 

The Bicentenary of the ending of the slave trade gives us the opportunity to reflect on the past, pay tribute to the courage and moral conviction of those who campaigned, against all the odds for its abolition. This exhibition gives us the opportunity to reflect on the power of women coming together ordinary women in Hull, ordinary women in Freetown who created extraordinary photographs. I am delighted to declare this exhibition open.

 

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