BBC Radio 4-Seriously 06 02 2018-Sylvia Pankhurst, Honorary Ethiopian Unofficial Show Notes

Read the official show notes, stream and download the podcast at

2018 marks 100 years since the first time British women were given the right to vote. Rhianna Dhillon introduces Dr Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, the famous leaders of the Suffragettes. Dr Pankhurst is a senior advisor to CARE International in Ethiopia and the UK.  We learn how Dr Helen’s grandmother, Sylvia became an honorary Ethiopian due to her fight for human rights in Ethiopia during Mussolini’s 1930s invasion of the country.

01min 58sec: Dr Pankhurst walks through the streets of Addis, Ethiopia recalling sights and smells that her grandmother would have recognised. She observes the contrast between the modern luxury buildings and the visible poverty in Addis.

02min 55sec: A 74-year-old Sylvia Pankhurst moved to Ethiopia with her son, Richard in 1956 and lived there for four years before passing away. Former Addis Abeba University president, Andreas Eshete speaks of Slyvia Pankhurst’s incredible moral courage and passion defending the Ethiopian people against the fascist occupiers.

04min 32 sec: Dr Helen visits her birthplace in Addis, Dr Helen was born in 1964, four years after her grandmother passed away. Sylvia Pankhurst’s interest in Ethiopia and feminism are the driving factors in Dr Helen’s life.


05min 20 sec: We are introduced to Dr Helen’s mother, Rita who moved to Addis with Sylvia and Richard Pankhurst and continues to reside there. They sit at Sylvia’s desk, the focal point of her life during her final years. Rita says that Sylvia focused all her efforts on defending the Ethiopian people, a new chapter in her life that superseded her work as a reformer for women’s rights in the UK.

06 min 47 sec: Author, Rachel Holmes, who is currently writing a biography of Sylvia Pankhurst talks about how Sylvia, concerned about the rise of fascism in Italy, met Dr Helen’s grandfather, Silvio Corio, an Italian revolutionary in 1917 and campaigned with him during the early years of Mussolini’s ascent to power. When Mussolini planned to invade Ethiopia in the 1930s, Sylvia tirelessly warned the British press of her concerns. Sylvia felt that all efforts were centred on overthrowing the fascist regime in Spain but there was no concern for Ethiopia.

Sylvia founded The New Times & Ethiopian News and the first edition of this paper was published in May, 1936 with a rallying call to defend the independence of Ethiopia against Benito Mussolini’s fascist army. While The New Times & Ethiopian News called for recognition and support for Ethiopian independence, it also served to educate the West about the rich culture of the Ethiopians.

11min 14 sec: Shiferaw Bekele, Professor of Ethiopian & African history explains how Sylvia and others helped the exiled Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie by helping his people find new homes in Sudan, Kenya & Palestine.

Emperor Selassie

The Emperor returned to Addis Abeba on the 5th May 1941, ousting the fascist Italian regime through the combined efforts of Ethiopian & UK troops. He sent a telegram thanking Sylvia for her support. Sylvia was aware of Britain’s own colonial ambitions in Ethiopia and continued her struggle to liberate Ethiopia from it’s ‘liberators.’

14min 26 sec: The owner of a cafe named after Sylvia Pankhurst introduces his father who named the cafe. He was enlisted in the Italian army and forced to fight on the side of the occupiers. He had to flee when the Brits arrived and seized his property. An amnesty allowed him to return home where he learned of Sylvia and named his cafe after her in admiration of her struggle to truly liberate his country.

15min 47sec: Rachel Holmes speaks of the British government’s annoyance regarding Sylvia’s activism. As correspondence between government ministers reveals, they saw her as a thorn in the side of their colonial ambitions.

Silvio Corio passed away in 1954 and Sylvia felt The New Times & Ethiopian News had served its purpose. Sylvia wanted to keep writing about Ethiopia and contacted The Emperor seeking permission to visit his country. The Emperor gave her a house and she moved there in 1956 with her son. Sylvia set up The Ethiopia Observer to celebrate the country’s renaissance.

18min 28 sec: Shiferaw Bekele feels Sylvia kept silent regarding certain failings of the Emperor’s government. Dr Helen wonders how Sylvia balanced her Left-Wing Egalitarian views with the Authoritarian stance of the Emperor. Rita explains that Sylvia felt this was the best outcome and there was no alternative. She focused on what she could change rather than what she couldn’t.

Sylvia passed away at her desk. The Emperor himself attended her funeral service. It was a very large scale funeral with a huge crowd, comparable to the funeral services of Ethiopian royalty. Both Sylvia and her son, Richard were held in high regard in Ethiopia. When Richard passed away in 2017, the public reaction mirrored that of the loss of his mother.

24min 35 sec: Dr Helen talks to a young Ethiopian woman who speaks of their experiences carrying water and performing household chores, causing them to miss their classes in school while their brothers are free to attend all their classes. Thanks to training provided by CARE International, this is starting to change and young women are afforded more opportunities to equal education.

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