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Small Step Towards Equality

March 27, 2021

Inspired by the Sunderland Soroptimists and author Nancy Revell - whose "Shipyard Girls" series of novels have become bestsellers - Sunderland City Council has backed the plan to raise the profile of women, many of whom played a pivotal role in the war effort.  Soroptimist member Suzanne Brown began a conversation with Sunderland City Council, making the case for a permanent tribute. Artist Rosanne Robertson, born and bred in Sunderland, has been commissioned to produce the public sculpture which will stand proud near The Beam, overlooking the banks of the River Wear where the shipyards once were.

“These were women undertaking jobs like welding, riveting, burning and rivet catching, as well as general labouring, operating cranes, and painting. It was perilous work, yet history seems to have forgotten them”. artist Rosanne Robertson

The ambition, now delayed, was to have the sculpture, which is expected to be around three metres high, in place by summer 2020. Kevin Johnston, principal landscape architect at Sunderland City Council, said they would stand alongside Ray Lonsdale's sculptures of men in the emerging Riverside Sunderland area...and that he was hugely excited to work with the Soroptimists, Rosanne and Nancy. "It’s going to be such a poignant piece of art.”

In case we find ourselves thinking that the case for more statues of women is a no-brainer, let us remember that as well as this proposed tribute to the women workers, and despite the country already being exceptionally well served with male statues, six new statues of men have been commissioned at a cost of £390,000 by Sunderland City Council for the city centre, designed by sculptor Ray Lonsdale ( a man ) who also designed Seaham's 'Tommy' statue ( a man )

 and the recently unveiled sculpture in Hetton, Da said “Men Don’t Cry” ( another man and boy ).  

Cllr John Kelly ( another man ) said: "Sunderland is rightly famed as having once been the largest shipbuilding town in the world and people are tremendously proud of their shipbuilding heritage. This is a very accessible way of celebrating our shipbuilding past and paying tribute to all those who worked in the industry and made it the success that it was". It is good to see workers from the shipyards, collieries and breweries being honoured and understandable to want to commemorate the industrial past of the area, but the work of women seems to have been fogotten unless they took on men's roles, thus making them 'honorary men'?  Perhaps it's time for some 'women's work' to also be consdiered as worthy of commemoration?

And to name but 4, there are women who have excelled in their careers and social responsibilities; Ida and Lousie Cook, activists who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany, Dr Marion Philips, first female MP in Sunderland or Kate Adie, courageous journalist and broadcaster.