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Girls & Women

Suffragist Millicent Fawcett’s Statue Is Finally Unveiled in London’s Parliament Square

Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett has just become the first woman to be honoured in London’s Parliament Square — breaking up the boys’ club. 

The statue, which was unveiled on Tuesday, will stand alongside 11 statues of men in the square, which neighbours the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

And the Turner Prize-winning artist who created the statue, Gillian Wearing, is also the first female sculptor to have her work featured in the square. 

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The moment of the grand unveiling is testament to months of campaigning by activists. Writer and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez launched a petition in 2016, which received over 85,000 signatures and shoutouts from J.K. Rowling and Emma Watson.

“I can’t really take the whole thing in,” she told the BBC on Tuesday. “It’s too big really to contemplate that it’s finally happening.” 

The statue shows Fawcett at 50 years old, which is significant for Criado-Perez. 

“I wanted her to be standing there not at all sexualised, but statesmanlike,” continued Criado-Perez. “We wanted the statue to be her at a meaningful age, so we chose when she was awarded a brooch from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) at 50 years old.” 

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Criado-Perez, who was also behind the campaign to get author Jane Austen on the new £10 note, added: “The more that I read about the amazing women that have come before me, the more angry I am about why I didn’t know about them — why aren’t there statues of these people?”

Fawcett is also holding a placard that says “courage calls to courage everywhere” — a quote from a speech she made after the death of suffragette Emily Davison, who famously died when she was hit by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. 

London mayor Sadiq Khan’s made the application to Westminster City Council for planning permission for the statue, which was approved in Sept. 2017. 

“When you think of the great people in Parliament Square and when you realise that not one of them is a woman, it sort of begs the question, are we saying there haven’t been incredible women in the past?” said Khan, speaking before the unveiling of the statue. “That our country hasn’t been built on the back of great women?” 

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“Imagine how it must feel if you are a woman or a girl walking around the most progressive city in the world and seeing that the great people are all men and not seeing examples of great women,” he added. “It must have an impact, either consciously or subconsciously, on your aspirations, on how you feel your gender is seen by others.” 

Prime Minister Theresa May was also present at the event, and told the audience: “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 and protections we now enjoy, were it not for Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett.” 

“For generations to come,” she added, “this statute will serve not just as a reminder of Dame Millicent’s extraordinary life and legacy, but as inspiration to all of us who wish to follow in her footsteps.” 

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The unveiling of the statute comes 100 years after the 1918 Representation fo the People Act, which gave the first British women — those over 30 and with property — the right to vote in the UK for the first time. 

Fawcett will stand alongside the existing statues in the square: former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela; former US president Abraham Lincoln; leader of the Indian independence movement Mahatma Gandhi; former South African prime minister Jan Smuts; and former British prime ministers Sir Winston Churchill; David Lloyd George; William Gladstone; George Canning; Henry John Temple; Edward Smith-Stanley; and Benjamin Disraeli.

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on gender equality. You can join us by taking action here to support the #LevelTheLaw campaign, which calls on world leaders to eliminate laws the discriminate against women and girls.