International Women's Day Witness


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International Women's Day

To mark International Women's Day, this special edition of Witness will introduce you to five women who have been involved in extraordinary moments of history.


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Nottinghamshire Police

was investigating the case.

0:00:000:00:00

Sima Kotecha, BBC News, Nottingham.

0:00:000:00:01

Now on BBC News - to mark

International Women's Day,

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a special edition of Witness.

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Hello and welcome to a special

edition of Witness to celebrate

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International Women's Day

here at The British Library.

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We are looking back at five

remarkable women who have featured

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in the programme over the past year.

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We'll meet the civil servant

who challenged one of India's top

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policeman after he sexually

harassed her, a pioneering racing

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driver and member of

the Women's Land Army,

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who helped to feed Britain

during the Second World War.

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But first, in 2004, the Kenyan

environmental campaigner

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Wangari Maathai became

the first African woman to win

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the Nobel Peace Prize.

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She spent much of her life trying

to protect Kenya's forests.

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We went to the forest on the edge

of Nairobi to talk to her daughter.

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My mother was often

asked, were you afraid?

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You were fearless, how can you do

all of these things?

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She said I was afraid,

but what needed to be done

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was so compelling

that I had to do it.

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She grew up surrounded by nature,

surrounded by the beauty of nature.

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I also remember her describing her

mother being a farmer,

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her mother grew all the food

that they ate.

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And then she goes away

to school, to university,

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out in the United States,

and she comes back and she was

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a very young member of the academic

staff at at the university.

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She was struck by the issues that

were being presented by women

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who were very much like her mother.

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There was a lack of fuel,

lack of water and lack

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of nutritious food.

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And everything with a described

she felt was connected

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to a degradation of the landscape,

and so why not plant

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trees, she asked them?

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The women here till the land

so it is important that they know

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how to convert conserve the soil.

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She founded the green belt movement

in 1977 to help women plant trees

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and at the same time begin

to understand how to look

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after the land themselves.

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It is 50 million trees

now and counting.

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Very quickly, the green belt

movement became more than just

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about planting trees,

because we had an extremely

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dictatorial government

and a 1-party system.

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The land was being parcelled

out to the friends of

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the administration of the day.

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And so, protecting it

necessarily becomes political.

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This was by far one

of the scariest battles.

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People are showing a lot of anger

because nobody knew the extent

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to which the forest is destroyed.

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It was vicious.

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She got very physically hurt and she

was in hospital, but she survived.

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And so, whenever she survived

she knew it was time to go back

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and finish the work.

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We are here in Karura forest,

of the most beautiful urban

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forests in the world.

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And it is ranked to the movement

and the efforts of my mother

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at the time that saved it.

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But she also was a human rights

activist, a women's rights activist.

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I have no idea where these police

men are taking me now.

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I have done nothing...

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To challenge the president and the

party of the day, that was gutsy.

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An ecologist from Kenya has become

the first African woman to win

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the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Wangari Maathai...

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She just didn't believe

that it was her.

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I think for a while she probably

thought, maybe it is a mistake!

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But it was one of the most amazing

moments, to see her enjoy

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the spotlight and the platform,

which she had never had before.

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I think the whole day

she sort of spent saying,

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I didn't know anyone was listening.

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My mother died on the 25th

of September 2011.

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She has left quite a legacy I think.

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Suddenly, for us as Kenyans,

as women, as Africans,

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to believe in the power of one,

I think the fact that one woman

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from the highlands of Kenya could be

such a potent force for change,

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it is one of the most

inspiring things.

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Wangari Maathai, talking

to the programme in the beautiful

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Karura forest in Nairobi.

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In 1988, India's first ever sexual

harassment case was brought to court

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and the accused was a senior

policeman celebrated

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for fighting militants.

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She may be educated, an educated,

working class, an officer,

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a high-ranking officer like me.

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Nobody is immune, and it

happens every day.

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In 1988, I was serving as special

secretary for finance.

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I had about 20,000 people

under me and 90% were men.

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There was a dinner party.

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Hosted by the Home Secretary

and the Director-General

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of the police was also there,

and he called out to me

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and he said that I want to talk

to you about something.

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He got up and he came and stood

in front of me, towering above the.

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He put a finger on my face like that

and said, up, come on.

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Come along.

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Come on, you come along with me.

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So, I said, I said above Mr Gill, go

away from here, you're misbehaving.

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And so I got up and that

was the time when he

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slapped me on the bottom.

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That's what he did.

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Always people have considered it

to be a very trivial thing

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but I could not get over

the enormity of it.

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Letting it go meant living

with lowered self-esteem,

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gulping down my humiliation,

facing all the other people.

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The consequences of

complaining I had not really

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estimated at that time.

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Nobody was willing to take up

the case for me because they were

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so frightened of him

being the highest ranking police

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officer, no-one wanted to do

anything against him.

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And I found that no-one had ever

filed in section 509,

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which is the lesser offences.

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17 years, long years, of my life,

all of it was taken up

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by this, by this one case.

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The Lords had quashed the case,

the case reached the Supreme Court

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and it was the Supreme Court

which called for all of the records,

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reinstated the matter and they gave

the definition of modesty.

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They've reprimanded the High Court

judge and said, this cannot be

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treated as something trivial.

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All the people in every

household, this was the talk

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between husband and wife.

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The limelight was not on Gill,

it was on me, why had

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I registered the case?

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Must be something wrong with me!

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I attended the proceedings

of the trial throughout,

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along with my husband.

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But on the day the verdict came,

I especially requested, I said,

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I don't want to go there.

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KPS Gill was expecting to win

and then my husband's

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driver rang up and said,

he has been convicted

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on both counts.

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I never fought against KPS

Gill, I fought against

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the mindset of a society.

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People have seen that offences

against women are increasing.

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No.

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Now, now more women

are speaking out.

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And Rupan Bajaj is now retired

from the civil service.

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Next we're going back

to the Second World War,

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when thousands of British women

signed up to work on farms

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to grow vital crops

for a country under siege.

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They became known as the land girls.

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And Mona McLeod was one of them.

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I can look back on the war

and I can know that

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what I did was worth doing.

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Creating food was essential.

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RADIO: Down on the farm

the land girls are doing

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their bit and a bit more!

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I was 17, studying, I thought,

to go to Cambridge.

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And I knew nothing

about the land army.

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My father appeared one day and said,

I want to talk to you.

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And he said, I believe I have always

spoken about the importance

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of the higher education of women,

but first we should concentrate

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on winning the war.

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And so I said, yes, daddy.

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And a week later or so I had

left school and I was

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on the train for Scotland.

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NEWSREEL: The war has taken most

of the younger men away

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from Scotland's farms,

leaving the farmers without enough

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help to produce our

vital supplies...

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They treated me very

nicely, and it was a dairy

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farm, about 65 cows.

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And the first week I was

sent into the dairy.

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And I was told to and milk

the difficult cows.

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And I'm sorry to say that at the end

of the week they have all gone dry.

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And the Dairymen said he thought

I ought to be sent to the stables.

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Fortunately I love horses

and the horses and I got

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on very much better.

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Work was very hard, and we have no

protective clothing,

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and the uniform we had

was absolutely useless

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for keeping you warm in winter.

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So, the first winter I had

chilblains, my arms,

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my ears and my hands and my knees

and my heels and my toes.

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And until I got my brother's

cast-off jackets and I got some

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wonderful wooden knickers that came

down to my knees, I discovered that

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you didn't have to be freezing.

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But when I first went out

I thought, you have just got

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to suffer to win the war.

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The land girls I knew all worked

quite separately on different farms.

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I never met a girl

who worked in again.

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-- in a gang.

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All the girls I got

to know were isolated,

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totally and absolutely.

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One girl on a farm, and the nearest

girl ever was four miles away.

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NEWSREEL: Women have proved

themselves able to undertake

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the most skilled work.

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All thanks and honour to the land

girls, who are doing

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this magnificent job.

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I never for one moment

thought of giving up.

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I didn't expect the war

to go on for five years.

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But the idea of stopping

was not thinkable.

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You just went on, went on and on.

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And Mona McLeod went

on to write a book about her

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experience as a land girls.

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experience as a land girl.

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Remember, you can watch Witness

every month on the BBC

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News Channel or you can catch up

on all of our films

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and radio programmes

in our online archive.

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Just go to the BBC website

and look for Witness.

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In 1977 racing car driver

Janet Guthrie became the first woman

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to compete in the prestigious

Indianapolis 500 motivate.

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She talked to Witness about taking

part in a male dominated sport.

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NEWSREEL: Race drivers are a special

breed of American folk hero,

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they have always been men,

until Janet Guthrie.

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I had no house, no husband,

know jewellery, no insurance,

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I had one used up race car.

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I was playing in a millionaire's

sport from the very beginning.

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And not having been born

with a trust fund, I learned how

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to build my own engines

and do my own body work.

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I thought there was a reasonably

good chance that I would be

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successful at it, because I wanted

it a lot.

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I loved the sport.

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It was the passion

of my life, really.

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Part of the fun is to accept

the risk, and deal with it

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gracefully and well.

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You have to have an interest

in what it's like out there

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at the limits of human capability.

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I was saying to myself, you know,

you really must come to your senses

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and make some provision

for your old age.

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And that was the point

at which the phone rang and a voice

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completely unknown to me said,

"how would you like to take a shot

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at the Indianapolis 500?"

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It was sometimes said

that the Indianapolis 500 wasn't

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the most important race,

it was the only race,

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and that's how most

of the United States feels about it.

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Over 400,000 people showed up.

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You can't imagine how many people

but is until you see them in person.

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When I got my big chance at the top

levels of the sport,

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made a huge commotion.

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They simply had not had

the experience of running

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against a woman and they were sure

I was going to kill them all.

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All I had to do at the beginning

was opened up a newspaper

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and there was some other driver

saying that his blood

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was going to be on

the officials' hands.

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Seriously, when I say

commotion, it was big!

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Oh, I was so happy.

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I was happy that I had

put a car in the field

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for the Indianapolis 500.

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I think a lot of drivers would tell

you the first time they make

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the field at Indianapolis

is a moment you will never forget.

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Of course then you figure out

that what you really

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want to do is win the thing!

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You're thinking, who's behind you,

what are their driving habits?

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Who is ahead of you?

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What mistakes are

they likely to make?

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On the first lap you just really

want to keep yourself

0:16:320:16:35

out of any trouble.

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In that race, I had

a mechanical failure.

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When we finally decided the car

was not going to be fixable,

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I left the pits and headed back

to the garage.

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There was a lot of enthusiasm

in the stands at that point.

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Janet is not a newcomer

to car racing...

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My best finish at Indianapolis

was ninth in 1978 with a team I've

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formed and managed to myself.

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My best finish in IndyCar racing

was fifth at Milwaukee.

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I wasn't racing to prove

anything about women,

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because the fact that I was a woman

in my opinion had

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nothing to do with it.

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A racing driver was what I was,

right through to my bone marrow.

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And in 2006 Janet Guthrie

was inducted into the International

0:17:290:17:31

Motorsport Hall Of Fame.

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And finally we turn to 1964,

when the Windmill theatre

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in London's red light district Soho

closed its doors.

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It had become a national

institution because for a long

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time it was one of the few places

in Britain where it was possible

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to see naked women on stage.

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But a change in the law

on nude performances met

0:17:510:17:54

But a change in the law

on nude performances meant

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a decline for its fortunes.

0:17:570:17:58

Jill Millard Shapiro was one

of the Windmill girls.

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NEWSREEL: A blend of

glamour and sweat...

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Something seedy, yet also

touching in innocence...

0:18:120:18:15

It was a national institution,

there was nowhere else like it,

0:18:150:18:18

there never can be.

0:18:180:18:20

Whatever it was, it

has a great story...

0:18:200:18:27

It was by accident, I was walking

along the street and I saw

0:18:270:18:32

the sign saying Windmill

Theatre, stage door.

0:18:320:18:34

So I walked in, I don't know why.

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And I said to the stage doorman,

can I have an audition, please?

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And so he phoned upstairs

to the office and I was sent

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upstairs, and Vivian van Damme

didn't audition me but he just said,

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I like you, we will

take a chance on you.

0:18:540:18:57

What he didn't know was that

I was 14 and a half years old.

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He signed the contract and then

realised my age and told me to go

0:19:010:19:05

home and come back when I was 15

and a half.

0:19:050:19:08

So I did.

0:19:080:19:09

I didn't realise it was naughty.

0:19:100:19:12

Looking back at it

I think yes, it was!

0:19:120:19:32

The Windmill was non-stop revue,

it was called Revuedeville,

0:19:320:19:35

it was a revue theatre.

0:19:350:19:36

We did six shows a day.

0:19:360:19:38

Once you'd bought your first

ticket, that was it.

0:19:380:19:40

So, the audience could

sit there all day.

0:19:400:19:42

NEWSREEL: The proudest

years of the Windmill

0:19:420:19:44

were during the Second World War.

0:19:440:19:46

It allowed nothing to interfere.

0:19:460:19:48

They were the only West End theatre

open throughout the London Blitz.

0:19:480:19:51

Really brave girls who stood

there while the bombs

0:19:520:19:54

landed, all around them.

0:19:540:19:58

The house manager came out

onto the stage and asked this show

0:19:580:20:01

and asked the audience

if they wanted the performance

0:20:010:20:03

to continue, and almost every

time the answer was yes.

0:20:030:20:14

One of the most important things,

the think the audience would come

0:20:140:20:18

One of the most important things,

the thing the audience would come

0:20:180:20:21

to see, was the nude poses

at the back of the stage.

0:20:210:20:29

It was the obscenity laws,

and you were not allowed to move

0:20:290:20:32

in the nude on a London stage

or on any stage in the country.

0:20:330:20:36

It was censorship.

0:20:360:20:38

You can't be sexy

if you stand still.

0:20:380:20:43

Oh, I don't know!

0:20:440:20:45

So, the Lord Chamberlain's office,

they'd come, very happily!

0:20:450:20:47

They were very pleased to come

to the shows and say,

0:20:480:20:51

oh, no, that's a bit too much,

you can't say that.

0:20:510:20:54

But they always tipped us off

when they were on their way!

0:20:540:20:57

1964, by then, Soho had changed

with all the strip clubs.

0:20:570:21:05

Our little friend Miss Fifi

was three streets away!

0:21:050:21:17

Where we weren't allowed to move,

she could shake it all about as much

0:21:170:21:21

as she liked.

0:21:220:21:23

So, we lost a lot of the audience,

people who perhaps wanted to see

0:21:230:21:27

more, they could go to the clubs,

whereas we were still a theatre.

0:21:270:21:30

And we felt it was better to close

0:21:300:21:37

while we were still respected

than to even attempt to change,

0:21:370:21:39

and the girls wouldn't have done it.

0:21:390:21:42

So, we closed, with

our heads held high.

0:21:420:21:44

We're all friends to this day,

those of us who are still living.

0:21:440:21:48

I think we were very lucky,

we were privileged to have

0:21:480:21:51

been Windmill girls.

0:21:510:21:53

Jill Millard Shapiro

at her home near London.

0:21:530:22:00

That's all from this

special edition of Witness,

0:22:000:22:02

celebrating

International Women's Day

0:22:020:22:03

at The British Library.

0:22:030:22:04

We will be back here next

month to bring you more

0:22:040:22:07

extraordinary moments in history

and the remarkable people

0:22:070:22:09

who witnessed them.

0:22:090:22:10

But for now from me and the rest

of the Witness team, goodbye.

0:22:100:22:18