UK Politics

Miliband: Male-dominated banknotes highlight 'crisis' in gender representation

Elizabeth Fry on a £5 note
Image caption Social reformer Elizabeth Fry is set to be superseded by Sir Winston Churchill as the face of £5 note

Ed Miliband has cited the lack of women featured on banknotes as evidence of a wider "crisis" in gender representation in British culture.

In a speech in London, the Labour leader called for more public recognition of the past and current achievements of women in British life.

He criticised "outdated" gender stereotyping in advertising and the growing sexualisation of youth culture.

Labour is currently looking into how older women are treated in the media.

Equality campaigners have criticised the decision to replace Elizabeth Fry with Sir Winston Churchill as the face of the £5 note when new tender is released next year.

When this happens, it will leave the Queen as the only woman celebrated on British currency.

Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King defended the decision earlier this week, saying the Fry notes would remain in circulation, and hinted that writer Jane Austen was "waiting quietly in the wings" as a contender when future notes are issued.

'Heroic'

But addressing an audience in London of women working in advertising and public relations, Mr Miliband suggested the move sends the wrong signal and is emblematic of a problem about how women and their achievements are portrayed.

"One hundred years on from the great struggle to give the women the right to vote, women should not be waiting quietly in the wings for anything," he said.

"This is an important symbol of the kind of country we are. Why don't we have one of our great women scientists like Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and a suffragette like Emmeline Pankhurst on our banknote?"

The Bank of England has pictured British personalities on the back of its notes since 1970 and only two, Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, have been women.

While the profile and success enjoyed by women such as Doreen Lawrence, JK Rowling, Clare Balding and Jocelyn Bell Burnell shows how much society has changed, Mr Miliband said British culture is lagging behind in many respects in terms of the prominence given to women.

"National and local government should offer the role models of heroic women and their achievements," he added. "That applies to everything from banknotes to statues around this great city of London."

Fresh thinking is needed about how women are portrayed in advertising and how their contributions across a whole variety of fields are reflected in the national curriculum, Mr Miliband argued.

"Representation is not just about the jobs that people do. It is also about how people are seen, about the images we have of each other... We all know there are still too many images of women in our advertising that reflect outdated ideas about the role of men and women, boys and girls.

"There are still too many adverts which do not show the modern world as it is."

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