People are being urged to find female statues in their local areas as part of a campaign to record the sculptures and busts of “real-life women” and redress the gender imbalance in civic monuments.
The campaign group Public Sculpture and Statues Association (PSSA) has so far recorded 100 sculptures in the UK as part of its new public database. Its co-chair Joanna Barnes said the list was not comprehensive and new submissions were being made.
“We have a live list that we can keep on adding to, so we can actually see what is out there and who’s being celebrated,” she said. “There are some really interesting women being celebrated.”
In 2016, the campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez organised all the statues in the database from a now defunct group called the Public Monuments and Sculptures Association. Out of 158 statues of women on the list, almost half were mythical figures. Just 25 were not either mythical or royalty, although PSSA estimates that figure has since grown. The UK is estimated to have 500 statues of non-royal men.
Proposals by a group of Conservative MPs to commemorate more than 1,700 recipients of the Victoria Cross and George Cross – just 11 of whom are women – could exacerbate gender inequality. “Men are already very, very well represented,” said Terri Bell-Halliwell from the campaign group InVisible Women.
“It’s a clever move in many ways, because how churlish you seem if you say, ‘oh no we shouldn’t commemorate these war heroes’, because obviously, they are very heroic people. But when you look at the existing situation, it just makes an overwhelming imbalance even more massively imbalanced.”
The problem of underrepresentation is even more stark when it comes to women from ethnic minorities, according to Bell-Halliwell. Before 2016, the only statue of a non-white woman she had recorded was one honouring Pocahontas. In January that year, a memorial was unveiled to the Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole, which was believed to be the first in honour of a named black woman in the UK.
In the last five years, a number of local campaigns have been pushing for more female statues around the UK. More than £33,000 has been raised to put a lifesize bronze of Virginia Woolf at the riverside in Richmond upon Thames, where the writer lived for 10 years.
Jean Calder, the chair of trustees for the Mary Clarke statue appeal, told PA Media she was fighting to commemorate the first suffragette to give her life for women’s right to vote. “What is interesting about Mary is that she gave her life, she was the first to die for the case and had she been male almost certainly there would have been memorials to her.
“I think a lot of the men who were awarded the Victoria Cross are already memorialised. But the real gap is women, and from our perspective the contribution of women to society and the heroism and bravery of women.”