Earlier this year the first statue celebrating the life of a woman was unveiled on Parliament Square. The 8ft 4in bronze statue is of Millicent Fawcett. She was a suffragist who campaigned tirelessly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century for women’s right to vote.
In 1918 the Representation of the People Act brought in the vote for (some) women for the first time in the history of this country. It was another ten years before women gained electoral equality, but even so 90 years is a long time ago. Nonetheless changes in the workplace have been slow to emerge. A number of our corporate partners still feel there is a real need to actively promote gender equality. Companies such as BP Trading, SapientRazorfish and NatWest have explained to clients on our business visits how they promote the benefits of employing women and how seriously they believe in establishing full equality in the workplace.
To some it may seem that the battles surrounding gender equality in the work place have been fought and won, but Elizabeth Pfeuti made a fascinating point in Financial News earlier this year:
“At the end of the financial year 2016, Fortune reported there were eight Davids, seven Steves and six women holding FTSE 100 CEO roles.”
It was only two years ago that the feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado Perez, realised that there were no women represented in the statues around Parliament Square. Perez immediately set up a petition to address this omission and she quickly garnered support.
However, Millicent Fawcett’s statue is not the first female campaigner to be recognised around the Palace of Westminster. The Suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, had a statue unveiled in 1930 in Victoria Tower Gardens. Earlier this month a new row emerged about plans to move the Pankhurst statue from its current location beside the Houses of Parliament to the private Regent’s University in Regent’s Park. There are strongly held views on both sides of the argument about moving / not moving the Pankhurst statue and at the moment it would seem that it is unlikely to happen.
Statues seem to have provoked huge debate in recent times from discussions about removing the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University to arguments about the appropriateness of Nelson’s Column as argued by Afua Hirsch in the Guardian last year.
Times and attitudes change and it is fascinating to hear new perspectives about how we reflect on our history but one thing that cannot be denied is that men have utterly dominated our public art for centuries. Gillian Wearing’s statue of Millicent Fawcett is an important addition to Parliament Square not least because Wearing is also the first female sculptor to have work displayed in this location. As former Prime Minister Harold Wilson noted, “a week is a long time in politics”, but apparently 100 years really isn’t that long in the history of gender equality.