THE name Pankhurst is synonymous with women's rights. It is one which shook the establishment and still resonates more than a century after it began appearing in newspaper headlines.

As the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and the granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst – those pioneering figures in the Suffragette movement – it is perhaps inevitable that Dr Helen Pankhurst can be found at the heart of a continuing battle for equality.

The significance of that powerful family history began to sink in from an early age. "I grew up in Ethiopia, so it wasn't something that I was aware of all the time," says the author of Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women's Rights, Then and Now.

"But what would happen is that I used to come to the UK for the summer holidays as a child. When I met adults, they would pause when they heard the surname and start asking me questions. As I grew older it became clearer how important, interesting and complicated that legacy was."

She credits a childhood spent living in Addis Ababa – in the family home that once belonged to Sylvia – with helping shape her life. "Being brought up in Ethiopia and seeing some of the ways that women were treated there and the inconsistencies," she says.

"This idea that women are weaker, and yet, as a very young child, I remember seeing women were the ones who collected wood and water on their backs – a massive, difficult and burdensome thing.

"I remember querying that: how come society says women are weaker and yet here they are at the brunt and forefront of that physical labour?

"Also, the surname. I think being a girl with that surname I felt it a lot more than my brother did."

Pankhurst, 53, splits her time between Addis Ababa and London. She will be speaking at the Boswell Book Festival on Sunday about her book which takes its name from the slogan "Deeds Not Words" adopted by Emmeline, co-founder of the Women's Social and Political Union, in 1903.

Pankhurst's mother Rita is a retired librarian, while her late father Richard was a historian and academic. He was a founding member of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and former professor at Addis Ababa University.

Elder brother Alula is a social anthropologist and the Ethiopia country director for Young Lives, an international study of childhood poverty.

Pankhurst, meanwhile, has worked with global development organisations including ACORD, Womankind Worldwide and is a senior advisor with CARE International in the UK and Ethiopia. In addition, she has been a trustee of WaterAid, Farm Africa and ActionAid.

Alongside women's rights, her areas of expertise include programme and policy for urban and rural development, water hygiene and sanitation.

She is passionate about continuing the work of her grandmother and great-grandmother. Pankhurst and her daughter Laura, 23, were invited by Danny Boyle to join a 50-strong group of women who performed a Suffragette re-enactment during the London 2012 opening ceremony.

Galvanised by that powerful imagery, mother and daughter – echoing Emmeline and Sylvia before them – decided to spearhead the continuation of the "Olympic Suffragettes", a group which campaigns on women's rights issues.

They have marched on parliament and performed similar re-enactments as part of International Women's Day. "It gave me, as a descendant of Emmeline, a group that were the equivalent of the Suffragettes around me," reflects Pankhurst.

She worked as an advisor and had a cameo role in the 2015 film Suffragette which starred Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff and Meryl Streep, helping to promote the project as far afield as Australia, Japan and the US. "This surname has taken me to all sorts of weird and wonderful places," she says.

The idea to write a book was mooted some years ago but shelved when Pankhurst was diagnosed with endometrial cancer (although she is now in remission).

With this year marking the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 – also known as the Fourth Reform Act – which gave many women over the age of 30 the right to vote, it seemed like the right time to put pen to paper.

"I was always asked for a very short answer to things like: 'What would Emmeline think of the world today?'" she says. "I wanted the opportunity to really reflect on it and say: 'Well, how much have things changed?' And to give a personal perspective on the Suffragette movement.

"It was a chance to explore all of that in more detail. Little did I know how absolutely relevant those questions would be in 2018. I had no idea the resonance would be quite so strong. And it is strong because of #MeToo and Time's Up and all these other issues which have come up."

Pankhurst is frank when asked how much women's lives have changed in the 100 years. "In some ways dramatically and in other ways they are exactly the same," she says. "I would say that there is a lot more variety in terms of the individual arcs that a woman might go through than she would have 100 years ago.

"There are many more opportunities to do different things in different ways in terms of your personal life, work and exposure to all sorts of opportunities. And yet, there is a constant theme around subordination and subjugation. It is what women look like, not what they do or say that counts. Violence against women is a theme that infected every single chapter."

She is forthright when asked why, given we have seen wave after wave of feminism, women are still fighting for equality? "I think social norms are incredibly rigid," says Pankhurst. "That definition of man as a leader and women behind him is so ingrained culturally that it is very difficult to shift. It is shifting – but very slowly.

"It is about power. The Suffragettes were incredibly unusual in using male tactics in forcibly demanding the vote with militancy and violence. Traditionally, power is not given up easily and men have used violence. But for women to demand it in that way is almost unheard of."

Pankhurst views it as indicative of those rigid social norms that even 100 years on, many people remain scandalised by the Suffragettes' tactics. "It is still shocking because it is so unusual," she says. "But also, it is still shocking for women to say enough is enough with the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. It is still culturally shocking for women to speak out.

"Forget the militant tactics. Even just to stand-up and say enough is enough and be forceful and to use your voice as a woman is still considered unacceptable. And isn't that even sadder in a way than that using militant tactics is shocking?"

At the present rate, says Pankhurst, British women will have to wait until 2069 for the gender pay gap to disappear. Does she reckon her grandmother and great-grandmother would have envisaged that?

"Again, I feel I could argue both ways. I think that they over time saw how difficult all of this was. I remember seeing a letter that Emmeline wrote to Keir Hardie in 1908 believing that success was just around the corner. That was before all the force-feeding and so much more militancy.

"I think women have always thought it is just around the corner. So, they would probably recognise 100 years later that we are still thinking we are not there yet. On the other hand, it is 100 years. There is an element of me that is frustrated and I think they would be frustrated as well to say: 'Does it have to be so glacially slow?'"

Pankhurst believes every one of us has a role to play in helping to speed up gender parity. "In a way the problem is not the dinosaurs that are causing the return to hierarchies, entitlement and rigid structures," she says. "They exist and are incredibly powerful. Globally we see their rise again – without naming names."

Nor does she believe the burden should fall to those who are at the forefront of championing change. Rather, she says, it is the people somewhere in the middle who may hold the greatest power.

"The mundane little things, if we are all more conscious of those, I think it would shift things," says Pankhurst. "If we looked at the choices we make about what we do with our free time; if we supported women in sport, books and the theatre.

"There are so many things from very small, minor little acts on a day-to-day basis through to how we use our voice, political endorsements and calling out inequality in the workplace. Opportunities in this day and age are boundless. The question is: do we have the energy and commitment to keep on pushing? Because it will demand that for things to change.

"I am very positive. I feel that right now. I wouldn't have been two years ago."

There may be many individual battles – gender parity in the workplace, equal representation, childcare, violence and abuse against women to name but a few – but Pankhurst sees them all as part of the one war.

"A hundred years ago it was about a single act and they felt that would unlock all sorts of other areas of rights by allowing women in a political space," she says. "Now it is about changing social norms. All these things are cumulative: we can't resolve it just one issue at time."

Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women's Rights, Then and Now by Helen Pankhurst is published by Sceptre, priced £25. The author will be speaking at Boswell Book Festival this Sunday. Visit