London’s Parliament Square has just undergone a much needed makeover.
On International Women’s Day in 2016, journalist Caroline Criado-Perez was out jogging when she noticed that the famous square was in serious need of a “woman’s touch.”
The Square, located at the northwest end of the Palace of Westminster, is home to a number of statues that serve to honor some of the most notable people in history. However, jogging past statues of Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln, Criado-Perez became aware that she was surrounded by historically powerful men, and no women.
Two years later, on April 24nd, the unofficial “boys only” rule was officially broken when a statue of Millicent Fawcett, a pioneer in the British women’s suffrage movement, was unveiled in Parliament Square.
Fawcett served as president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1897 to 1919. She was instrumental in the passing of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which gave British women over the age of 30 the right to vote. Due to the limitations of the legislation, Fawcett continued to campaign until the right was extended to all adult women in 1928, a year before her death.
Current British Prime Minister Theresa May attended the April unveiling and reflected on the fact that she, as well as the entire country of Britain, owe a lot to Fawcett.
“I would not be standing here today as prime minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have had the right and protections we know enjoy, were it not for one truly great woman,” May told the Washington Post.
Much of fight to get Fawcett’s statue constructed can be attributed to Caroline Criado-Perez. Like Fawcett, Criado-Perez is a devoted feminist, activist, and campaigner. Criado-Perez is no stranger to leading movements that spark change. In 2016, the Bank of England announced that they would replace prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, who had been the only representation of women other than the queen on banknotes at that time, with an image of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the £5 note. Upon hearing this announcement, Criado-Perez threatened to take them to court for discrimination. The bank responded to the threats by releasing £10 notes featuring celebrated author Jane Austen.
The newly-unveiled statue of Millicent Fawcett holds a banner that reads “courage calls to courage everywhere”, a phrase that was taken from a speech Fawcett delivered after the death of fellow suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. The statue was designed by artist Gillian Wearing who is, fittingly, the first woman sculptor to have her work displayed in Parliament Square.
“Now Millicent Fawcett’s statue can stand as an equal among male statues in Parliament Square,” Wearing told The Guardian.
Mayor Sadiq Khan expressed hopes that this statue will serve as an inspiration to those who are fighting for gender equality today.
Khan, who identifies himself as a “proud feminist,” commented, “It’s simply not right that this historic square has been a male-only zone for statues, because statues matter. They are a symbol of our values, the demonstration of the importance we place on hard battles won, both in peace and war, and an expression of who and what we chose to celebrate.”
The 8-foot-4-inch statue was unveiled in Parliament Square in April 2018, exactly 100 years after British women were first granted the right to vote in 1918. While admiring the Square’s new addition that she fought so hard for, Criado-Perez said, “Women are still woefully underrepresented, but we are making one hell of a start in changing that.”
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