The Daily Telegraph reported (24th January 2021) that Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary and Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary plan to back a proposal from the Common Sense Group of Conservative M.P.s that local authorities erect (and fund) statues to all holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross. It didn’t take long for women’s organisations to point out that such a scheme would exclude women.
Jean Calder’s letters of 6th February 2021 on behalf of the Appeal to Sally-Ann Hart M.P. for Hastings and Rye and member of the Common Sense Group and also Oliver Dowden M.P., the Culture Secretary, are reported in a separate item on this website.
Several groups campaigning for statues of women have pointed out that soldiers are already well commemorated and that it is the contribution of women which has largely gone unrecorded. Terri Bell Halliwell of inVISIBLEwomen, who is a valued supporter of this Appeal, wrote to Sir John Hayes M.P, the Chair of the Common Sense Group, on the 15th February 20121, copying her letter to the Culture Secretary and national media, saying this scheme will the increase the “imbalance” in civic statues. Her letter, which is reproduced in full below, was reported on 17th February 2021 in the Guardian online in an article by Helen Pidd https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/feb/17/more-war-hero-statues-is-wholly-retrograde-move-conservative-mps-say-womens-groups?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
Letter to Sir John Hayes MP, Chair of the Common Sense Group of Conservative M.P.s from Terri Bell Halliwell of inVISIBLEwomen dated 15th February 2021
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”.
cc Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP