A speech by Her Majesty The Queen at a reception to celebrate International Women’s Day and to mark the end of the WOW Girls Festival Bus tour


Let your lives be the stones that will shatter glass ceilings everywhere and inspire generations to come.

Ladies…more ladies…and several gentlemen, as the proud President of WOW, I am delighted to welcome you to Buckingham Palace to mark International Women’s Day.

I would like to begin with a “show and tell”. I have here two stones that, on 27th May 1914, were thrown at the Palace during a Suffragette protest. The label on this one reads, “If a constitutional deputation is refused, we must present a stone message”. This one says, “Constitutional methods being ignored drive us to window smashing”. The Times reported two days afterwards: “Between 11 and 12 o’clock on Wednesday, two women succeeded in evading the sentries at Buckingham Palace and entered the quadrangle. They threw stones at the windows and broke two panes of glass before the sentries intervened. The women were taken to the police station in the precincts of the Palace, but the Master of the Household refused to prosecute and they were released”. These stones were picked up and handed to Queen Mary, who decided to keep them for posterity. I thought today we might, to quote Shakespeare, find “sermons in stones”…

Now please don’t think for a moment that I am encouraging any of you to evade sentries, or throw stones, or do anything unconstitutional – not least because I am not quite sure how today’s Master of the Household would react. But while the more destructive steps taken by the suffragettes could not be condoned today, I wanted to show you these stones because of what they represent. In 1914, I believe, they represented hope to the women who threw them – hope that, in the future, they would not be victims of their history, nor of the social and economic forces that were ranged against gender equality. Above all, they represented the hope that it was possible, as Christabel Pankhurst said, “to make this world a better place for women”. Today, 110 years later, you have been invited into Buckingham Palace because you too represent hope for women in the present and in the future.

Your achievements and your courage are great causes for celebration. As I have followed the progress of the WOW bus across all four corners of the country, I have been enormously impressed to hear of the mentorship that has been offered, the panel discussions that have challenged and strengthened those present, and the partnerships that have been forged with organisations that are, year round, doing incredible work with young people.

So I want to say, quite simply – well done and thank you. And, as we look to the future, let us recall these words of Christabel Pankhurst: “Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand besides us, fight with us”. To which I would only add: let your lives be the stones that will shatter glass ceilings everywhere and inspire generations to come.