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22nd October 2014

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Sarah Brown visits Camden School for Girls – ‘We need boys to become feminists’

    Sarah Brown speaking to pupils at Camden School for Girls

    Former prime minister’s wife returns to her old school with challenging equality message

    Published: 31st March, 2011
    by JOSIE HINTON

    SARAH Brown returned to her former school on Monday where she urged “boys and girls alike” to embrace feminism.

    The wife of former prime minister Gordon Brown told sixth-form pupils at Camden School for Girls that both male and female voices are required to achieve equality.

    Mrs Brown was speaking at the Camden Town school about her work for the women’s rights campaigning organisation, White Ribbon Alliance, a group of which she is a patron.

    She said: “I know I’m very much associated in the public eye for being married to the prime minister. But I also want to talk to you about things I’ve done in my life.”

    Mrs Brown said she joined Camden School for Girls from Acland Burghley at  a time when she said the school was just two buildings: “One for smokers and one for non-smokers.” 

    It was at the prestigious north London school that she met Julia Hobsbawm, daughter of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The two later set up successful public relations company Hobsbawm Macaulay, and won contracts with the New Statesman and the British Council.

    Mrs Brown told pupils that during that time she was often referred to as a “career singleton” and never believed she would give up her job. 

    But, she told pupils, her priorities changed after she married Gordon and the couple lost their first child shortly after birth.

    “I learned to deal with that terrible loss and I learned that it just becomes a part of you, but I learned also that we understand too little about the problems that can arise doing something that should only be about joy. I learned that I needed to act in order to help,” she said.

    Mrs Brown became involved in a number of charities addressing healthcare and women’s issues including Wellbeing of Women, Women’s Aid, and Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. She also founded PiggyBankKids in 2002, which focuses on giving children in the UK the best start in life. 

    Quizzed by pupils on why, as a feminist, she changed her name to Brown when she got married and did not retain her family name of Macaulay, she said she wanted to be “one person with one name” rather than have separate surnames for career and home. And she spoke of her frustration at the attention paid to prime ministers’ wives.

    “The focus on spouses tends to be on what they are wearing. I tried to use the attention to try to get across what I believe in rather than my outfit,” she said.

    Asked by a male student whether she thought it would be tricky to get boys to embrace feminism, she told him:  “You’ll just have to get over it, it’s only a word.”

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