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Equality of Representation?

Feb. 18, 2021

Yesterday Helen Pidd wrote in the Guardian ( link below ) about MPs response to the letter below concerning the proposal to erect 1750 statues of men.

Sir John Hayes said in January: “Tragically, too many who have given and achieved so much have been all but forgotten. In many places, locals may be unaware that they tread in the footsteps of heroes" but even more tragically his chosen route to select those to be honoured is by ( overwhelmingly male ) miltary prowess alone, a group who are already extremely well commemorated. The great, widespread and continuing work of women in all fields of endeavour and in our communities goes unremarked and uncommemorated, often relegated by that convenient debasing catch-all term  "Women"s Work". This is in fact the work without which we cannot survive or thrive. Worthy and heroic actions do not take place on the battlefield alone.

My letter Sir John Hayes MP...

Dear Sir 

I write as the founder of inVISIBLEwomen, a virtual museum and national campaign for gender equality in UK civic statues. The best estimate of the number of UK statues of named non-royal men was 500 at last count in 2016, whilst named non-royal women numbered just 25. Given this astonishing existing imbalance I was shocked by the proposal of the Common Sense Group concerning the erection of statues to all holders of both the Victoria and George Cross.

You are reported as saying that the group

“has launched a campaign to honour every recipient of the VC and GC through the erection of a statue, immortalising them in their place of birth”,

Coming from a government that has so often stated its backing for gender equality this idea seems wholly retrograde. These are, without doubt all heroic people, but the vast majority of them are men and civic statues are already overwhelmingly male. 

There are laws about discriminating against women, but it seems that women can, in fact, be hugely discriminated against in terms of who we as a nation have to ‘look up to’ both literally and figuratively, in our civic statues. Nationally there are a number of active campaigns for statues of women and a long waiting list of nearly one hundred other worthy candidates on the inVISIBLEwomen website. If the public purse is really to be used for new statues surely it is these women who should have first call on such funding? Even if every one of them had a statue, we would still not have come close to gender equality in who we look up to on civic plinths, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.

The Fawcett Society reports that of the 1761 holders of the Victoria and George Cross all are male except for 11 women. If the suggestion to erect statues of all of these were implemented, even including the few recent additions to statues of women, men would still outnumber women by the staggering amount of 2250 to 50. Surely members of a government that makes claims to embrace gender equality should not now be promoting a move which would set back equality of representation in UK statues by decades.

Current campaigns for statues of women include the suffragettes Mary Clarke, Amy Walmsley, Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, and Sylvia Pankhurst, the palaeontologist Mary Anning, MP Barbara Castle, author Virginia Woolf, wartime nurse Elsie Inglis and the striking Matchgirls as well as one statue, ready to erect of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher which has been delayed for some time. It is debatable whether the installation of a statue of any other former male Prime Minister would have had to endure such controversy.

Mary Clarke died so women could vote. Elsie Inglis and her team saved the lives of thousands of soldiers.The Matchgirls changed the course of industrial relations in this country. These women are in no way negligible. Given that we are already so extremely well supplied with monuments to men and the military, now has to be the time to honour these overlooked women and so begin to achieve a more balanced view of what and who is worthy of being ‘looked up to”. 

Yours sincerely

Terri Bell-Halliwell




cc Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP,  Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP