Women’s rights: Citizenship lesson activities (Theme 2: Rights)

Campaigning. Rights. Representation. Protest. Our Citizenship lesson activities focus on how women and their allies have fought for women’s rights and the role that we can all play in creating a fairer and more equal world.

Theme 2: Rights

For linked sessions, please see Theme 1: Active Citizenship and Theme 3: Representation or download a PDF pack containing all three themes.

Created by Emily Owen, ACT (Association for Citizenship Teaching)

Suitable for Key Stages 3 and 4

We have designed a series of Citizenship lesson activities to support the British Library resource, A map of women’s resistance in the UK. This resource is a fantastic way to explore case study examples of women past and present who have championed equality and women’s rights.

Our aim is to help students explore primary and secondary sources using this digital tool. We hope students will gather powerful real-life examples of women who have campaigned to make their own lives and the lives of generations ahead of them more fair and equal. Many of the women featured in the map are from diverse backgrounds and often fall outside of the usual case studies people might be familiar with when exploring women’s rights and campaigns.

We have split the sessions into three themes, with three activity ideas per theme. Each activity comes with an objective and an overview exploring how the activity can link to wider Citizenship curriculum themes. Each activity consists of a ‘main learning task’ with guidelines and a ‘taking it further’ task to help stretch students and for further exploration on the topic.

A glossary of Citizenship keywords is included below the activities.


Theme 2: Rights

This resource links to the following aspects of the Citizenship National Curriculum.

GCSE Citizenship

• Edexcel – Theme A: Living together in the UK.
• AQA – Rights & Responsibilities
• OCR – Rights, the law & the legal system in the UK & Democracy & Government.

Key Stage 3 National Curriculum Citizenship link

• The development of the political system of democratic government in the UK, including the role of citizens, parliament and the monarch.
• The precious liberties enjoyed by the citizens of the UK.

Key Stage 4 National Curriculum Citizenship link

• The role of citizens and parliament in holding the government to account.
• Human rights and international law.
• Diverse national, religious and ethnic identities in the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding.
• The different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of his or her community, to include the opportunity to participate actively in community volunteering as well as other forms of responsible activity.

Citizenship National Curriculum skills

• Developing the ability to explore issues critically
• Developing students' ability to weigh up evidence
• Developing students' debating skills
• Developing students' ability to make reasoned judgements
• Developing students’ skills to become a prepared citizen.

Session 1: The struggle for a woman’s right to vote

Lesson objective: To analyse and research key moments which led to women gaining the right to vote. Create a timeline.

Citizenship Keywords: Rights – Legislation – Representation – Political rights – Voting – Suffrage

Women's Social and Political Union members' card with an illustration of women holding up a votes banner, and photograph of Sophia Duleep Singh selling The Suffragette newspaper
Women's Social and Political Union members' card, Public Domain. Photograph of Sophia Duleep Singh selling copies of The Suffragette newspaper, 1913, Public Domain.

Lesson overview

Students will use this session to explore the history of suffrage and a woman’s right to vote. They will create a timeline of events to map key moments. Students will be guided to consider Citizenship-related elements such as the passing of particular pieces of legislation and key campaign actions which led up to the Representation of the People Act in 1918.

Citizenship teaching and learning links

Rights is a core element of the Citizenship curriculum. It is a broad concept. Within this set of lessons students can explore the idea of people having and gaining political rights. For women and many men this wasn’t an automatic occurrence, and women in particular have sacrificed and campaigned to ensure future generations have access to this political right and freedom. Teaching young people about the concept of rights is most effective when it is taught within a particular context, such as the campaign for women’s suffrage. This context can also compliment other key Citizenship elements within the political curriculum such as voter turnout, voter behaviours, representation and elections.


• Access to the map 
• Access to the Library’s Votes for Women website
• Post-it notes / white boards for discussion activity.

Lesson activities

Getting students interested

• Ask students to identify some key events that they have heard of which have helped to improve the rights of women in this country and around the world. For example, when women first got the right to vote. Perhaps they know that women now have access to maternity rights, but they don’t know when this was granted – that’s ok, simply see what events or changes they can identify. This can be done as a discussion exercise, or students can be given post-it notes or write ideas on white boards.
• Explain to students that rights allow people to have access to basic necessities in life and when a country passes a piece of legislation (a law) it is ensuring that its citizens have access to that right. Different rights include political rights, such as the right to vote, legal rights, such as the right to a fair trial, and moral rights, such as the right to be able to freely express an opinion without being harmed.

Main learning task

• This activity will focus upon the Representation of the People Act 1918 – a law that was passed which allowed certain women the right to vote for the very first time.
• Using the map and Votes for Women website, students should plot and create a timeline which includes some of the key events leading up to the passing of this piece of legislation. This will help young people to understand the huge amount of time and effort that went into campaigning for this change. Students can include events and people which interest them.
• Students may want to focus on:
• Key marches
• Petitions that were signed
• Debates in the House of Commons
• Stumbling blocks to the law being signed
• Key people who helped to ensure that this law was passed and what they did for this cause.

Suggested Case Study women to explore from the map

• Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
• Rosa May Billinghurst
• The Library’s women’s suffrage timeline can further support students.

Take it further

• Students may wish to explore other countries and when women around the world gained the right to vote. Find out more
• Students may be interested in watching the film Suffragette – and read more about the feminist protest on the red carpet by Sisters Uncut.
• To bring this up to date, students may choose to research how many women engage in politics and find out stats around how many women turned out to vote in the last general election. Find out more

Session 2: Having your voice heard

Lesson objective: To consider and analyse how effective speeches are as a campaign tool and write your own speech.

Citizenship Keywords: Rights – Freedom of Speech – Voting – Suffrage – Speeches

Poster advertising a suffragette meeting with public speeches
Poster for a Women's Freedom League meeting, from Maud Arncliffe Sennett's scrapbook, volume 5. Public Domain.

Lesson overview

This session will help students explore the value of speech writing and how it can be used as an effective tool to communicate a message, but also to galvanise a campaign. Students will explore historical examples of speeches given by suffragettes to help increase public support for a woman’s right to vote, as well as other examples that focus on women's rights. They will use these speeches as stimulus to write their own call to action about an issue they are passionate about.

Citizenship teaching and learning links

Exploring how individuals use their voice is an effective link to the UN right to freedom of speech. It also links to the topic of campaign methods more generally. For example, speech writing was a key method used during the campaign for women’s suffrage. Similarly, it is still used by politicians and campaigners such as Greta Thunberg to share and spread a message to large numbers of people. An important question for students to consider is whether we still use speeches as an effective campaign method, or have other activities such as the use of social media taken precedence.


• Access to the Library’s Votes for Women website
This session does not draw on the map, but uses other British Library resources and external links.

Lesson activities

Getting students interested

• Display some pictures on the screen of different ways that students can get their voices heard. E.g. protests, writing to an MP, social media, leafleting etc. Ask students to identify the different methods and explore how effective they are at raising awareness of particular issues.
• This can be done as a discussion or an ‘idea round robin’ (go around the room and ask students to identify how many different ways people try to get their voices heard). This should be a simple recall exercise if you have already delivered the campaign methods session.

Main learning activity

• Introduce the idea that throughout history giving speeches has been an effective way to raise awareness of an issue and to galvanise others to explore their own beliefs.
• Students should use the Votes for Women website to explore some of the speeches that suffragettes made during the campaign for a woman’s right to vote. In addition:

• When students have listened or read a couple of speeches that have raised awareness of women's rights, they should use these examples as stimulus to help them write a speech about a topic they are passionate about.
The topic does not have to be linked to women’s rights, but it should be something that the students think should be changed about society.
• To help guide students, their speeches can use the following structure:

  • What is your issue about and why is it important to you?
  • Why should it be changed?
  • How do you think it should be changed?
  • Why should people agree with your point of view on this issue?
  • Do you have a call to action – something that your listeners can do to help change your particular issue?

• To finish the lessons, speeches can be shared and read out to the class.

Take it further

• Explore and research some of the arguments against women’s suffrage. Why were men and women against this at the time?

Women's suffrage: 10 reasons why men opposed votes for women’ (BBC)

The anti-suffrage movement’ by Julia Bush (British Library)
• To help make further links to campaigning, ask students to consider and explore which methods people use to share their opinion on an issue in modern times.

Session 3: Rights vs responsibilities

Lesson objective: To debate the question, ‘Is breaking the law justifiable to gain access to your rights?’

Citizenship Keywords: Rights – Responsibilities – Suffragettes – Suffragists – Militancy

Newspaper page about arrest of Kitty Marion and photograph of Marion campaigning on the street
Page from the Votes for Women newspaper, Friday 9 January 1914. Sourced from British Newspaper Archive. Public Domain. Photograph of Kitty Marion © Bettmann / Contributor

Lesson overview

This session explores the idea of breaking the law to gain a right. A number of radical suffragettes used illegal methods to raise awareness of their cause and campaign for the vote. This session will see students exploring examples such as Kitty Marion and other suffragettes, to help open up the debate around if it is right to break the law to achieve a right.

Students will explore the differences between suffragettes and suffragists and consider the impact the different campaign methods had upon the debate as a whole, exploring the idea of rights versus responsibilities.

Citizenship teaching and learning links

This concept of rights versus responsibilities is a necessary discussion for students to have within the Citizenship curriculum. Many young people will witness examples of protestors breaking laws to try to raise the profile of an issue or to directly affect their struggle for a particular right. Similar debates have arisen within the GCSE Citizenship exam papers. This lesson can provide an excellent context to help frame the discussion. The map links to the actions of historical figures, but parallels can be drawn with more modern struggles for rights in the UK and other countries.


• Access to the map 
• Sugar paper to write up preparations for the debate.

Lesson activities

Getting students interested

• Display a picture of Rosa Parks on your screen. Students will ask you questions to help piece together who she was, what she did and why she challenged the law.
To add an extra challenge, you may want to limit your answers to yes or no so students have to think carefully about how they form their questions.
• Use this activity to show that Rosa Parks, by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger, defied the racial segregation laws in place at the time and in doing so demonstrated against racism and the way Black people were being treated in America. Sometimes individuals and groups have to use such methods in order to make their voices heard and bring about social and political change.

Main learning activity

• Different methods were used by women campaigning for the right to vote. Suffragettes adopted more militant direct action tactics, such as chaining themselves to railings and damaging public property, while suffragists used more peaceful and legal methods, such as petitioning Parliament. Both groups, however, used peaceful methods such as public speeches, marches, posters and leafleting. More background information can be found in this article on the Votes for Women website.
• Students will explore these approaches while considering and preparing for the following debate question: ‘Is breaking the law justifiable to gain access to your rights?’
• To prepare and complete the debate you can use the following structure:
1) Split the class in half, one side will take ‘agree’ and the other side will take ‘disagree’.

2) They will have 10 minutes to mind map their ideas for arguments to support their own side of the debate. They should try to think of examples which help to justify their points.

3) Split the groups again in half. Half of the group will use the online resource to research examples of real-life situations and case studies that support their arguments. These should be added to their mind maps.

4) The other half of the group will consider what arguments the other side will be developing and try to come up with counter arguments to these. Give students 10 minutes for these activities.

5) Students should prepare a one-minute opening statement putting across their main arguments.

Total prep time should take 20 minutes.

6) Bring the students together and complete the debate. Give both groups a chance to share their opening statement and then ping-pong between each side. Try to encourage students to counter one another’s arguments and use the examples they have researched to justify their points.

Suggested Case Study women to explore from the map:

• Ethel Moorhead
• Kitty Marion
• Sophia Duleep Singh
• Mairead Maguire

Take it further

Explore this video to consider the scale of suffragette militancy.

What are you opinions on this topic?

What examples of militant suffragette activities can you find using the resource?
• Bring this up to date: What protests have occurred recently that led to some people breaking the law? Discuss together as a group.


Helpful resources to explore alongside this collection

Women's Suffrage - History and citizenship resources for schools
Citizenship - Suggested units by key stage / setting (Oak Teacher Hub)
The Deliberative Classroom: Topical Debating Resources and Teacher Guidance (ACT)

Glossary of key Citizenship terms

Active citizen: A person who participates and connects with others in society.

Campaigning: The process of raising awareness of an issue via different methods.

Campaign methods: Methods used to raise awareness of an issue e.g. protests, letter writing, posters, speeches etc.

Equality: When people are treated fairly and no different to others within society in relation to status, rights and opportunities.

Equalities Act 2010: A piece of legislation passed to protect nine specific characteristics from discrimination and prejudice.

Freedom of speech: A right guaranteed by law to protect and allow a person to say what they believe is true.

Legislation: The collective phrase given to laws.

Local Councillor: An elected official who represents a ward within a local council area.

Militancy: The use of confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause.

Policy: A course of action about a particular issue suggested by an organisation or individual.

Political rights: A type of right which allows an individual to engage in political activities. E.g. the right to vote.

Pressure groups: A group that tries to influence decision makers and change policy on a particular issue or cause.

Primary source: A source of information such as an artefact, document, manuscript or diary. It serves as the original source of information about the topic.

Protest: A campaign method used to collectively bring people together to raise awareness of an issue.

Protest banners: A visual way of raising awareness of an issue or a pressure group.

Representation: When a view or perspective is heard, and someone takes action or speaks on behalf of someone else.

Rights: A moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.

Secondary source: A document or recording that discusses information that has been originally presented somewhere else. E.g. a website.

Select Committees: Check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs. They are a method of scrutiny for Parliament.

Speeches: A campaign method used to share an idea with others.

Strike: A campaign method when workers refuse to work due to conditions or other grievances.

Suffrage: The right to vote in political elections.

Suffragettes: A group which used non-violent and more violent methods to help women get the right to vote.

Suffragists: A group which used peaceful means to try and get women the right to vote.

Unions: A collective organisation which represents workers' rights.

Voting: The act of casting a ballot in an election.

Available under the Creative Commons License.

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