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News > World

London's Parliament Square Inaugurates First Statue of a Woman

  • Fawcett herself was a Suffragist, part of a moderate movement that predated the more militant Suffragettes.

    Fawcett herself was a Suffragist, part of a moderate movement that predated the more militant Suffragettes. | Photo: Reuters

Published 24 April 2018

The campaign for a statue of a woman opposite the British parliament started with an online petition two years ago by Brazilian-born British feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez.

The first statue of a woman in London's Parliament Square, women's rights campaigner Millicent Fawcett, was unveiled on Tuesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Britain, and will stand next to the 11 other statues of male historical figures.

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The statue came about as a result of a campaign launched by feminist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, who had already had success in pushing for a woman, novelist Jane Austen, to be represented on a banknote.

Criado-Perez said her research had shown there were more statues in Britain of men called John than there were statues of women. Excluding Queen Victoria, fewer than 3 percent of statues represented women, she said.

Prime Minister Theresa May — Britain's second female premier after Margaret Thatcher — led the unveiling ceremony.

Were it not for Fawcett, "I would not be here today as prime minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in parliament, none of us would have the rights we now enjoy," May said. "The struggle to achieve votes for women was long and arduous," and Fawcett "devoted her life to the cause".

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: "Finally, Parliament Square is no longer a male-only zone for statues."

The honoring of Fawcett and wider celebrations of the centenary of women's right to vote have gained additional relevance due to recent revelations about the extent of the gender pay gap in Britain and other persistent inequalities.

The statue marks February's centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which extended the vote to around eight million women aged over 30. It was not until 1928 that British women gained the same voting rights as men, but the 1918 act was a major step that put the kingdom ahead of some contemporaries such as France.

The statue was created by British artist Gillian Wearing, who won the 1997 Turner Prize for visual arts. She is the first woman to produce a statue for Parliament Square. The monument shows Fawcett holding a placard reading "Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere", in tribute to a speech she gave upon the death of Suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson at the 1913 Epsom Derby horse race.

Fawcett herself was a Suffragist, part of a moderate movement that predated the more militant Suffragettes. She is best known for her campaigns to improve women's opportunities in higher education and was a co-founder of the women-only Newnham College at Cambridge University. She was also president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies between 1897 and 1901.

The 11 pre-existing statues in the square are of former British prime ministers Churchill, David Lloyd George, Viscount Palmerston, the Earl of Derby, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel and George Canning; South Africa's PM Jan Smuts and president Mandela; US president Abraham Lincoln, and Gandhi.

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