Excuse Me Bank Of England, Can You Leave That Five Pound Note Exactly As It Is Please?

Good ol’ Twitter, drawing my attention to The Women’s Room’s most excellent campaign to make the Bank of England change its mind about replacing Elizabeth Fry on the five pound note with Sir Winston Churchill.
Publish date:
June 20, 2013
feminism, elizabeth fry, bank of england, five pound note, the women's room

Now I have nothing against Mr Churchill, in fact quite the contrary, I think he was pretty fantastic, but he should NOT be replacing the ONLY female historical figure on this country’s banknotes – why can’t Darwin be given the boot instead? Or James Watt and Matthew Boulton for crying out loud (who? exactly...)

The Women’s Room has been petitioning the Bank of England and raising money to mount a legal campaign – they have until June 24 to raise the cash so please donate HERE – I just did, and every penny counts. I asked Caroline Criado-Perez of The Women’s Room to explain exactly why she started the campaign and how it’s all come together.

“We collected about 22,000 signatures in about a week, many with very supportive statements about how much it mattered to them and why. I've also been taken aback about the generosity and speed with which people have been donating to our fighting fund... I think people's sense of fairness has been caught by this campaign, because it really is a David and Goliath story and the Bank is really, very sadly, throwing their considerable might against having a woman on the banknotes.”

Elizabeth Fry (1780 – 1845) was a Quaker who campaigned for prison reform and social change. She was appalled by the horrific conditions that female prisoners and their children were living in when she visited Newgate prison and made a lifelong commitment to alleviating their misery and that of the homeless and those living in desperate poverty.

Queen Victoria was a supporter of her work and Florence Nightingale was inspired by the training school she established for nurses and took a team of them to tend to injured soldiers in the Crimean War. Basically, she was an incredible woman.

Mervyn King pointed out that the Queen’s likeness is on every single bank note, coin and stamp in the land so we shouldn't be so fussed about losing fry, but I think he’s rather missing the point. The British figures who appear on the reverse of our fivers, tenners etc have been chosen in recognition of their achievements and contributions to British society. It hardly seems fair or accurate to suggest that not one single woman in our nation’s history deserves inclusion.

I can think of several women whose achievements warrant a spot on one of our banknotes – Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (introduced vaccinations for polio), Rosalind Franklin (Caroline's choice because "She was instrumental in discovering the DNA double helix, but instead she died pretty much unrecognised, with Watson and Crick taking all the glory and a Nobel Prize between them") Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie – need I go on?

Now I doubt that there’s some sort of grand misogynist conspiracy at work here to erase women’s contributions to our history - it's more likely to be sheer ignorance of the importance of this issue - what the powers that be don’t seem to appreciate is that this stuff actually matters. We may only glance at the crumpled fiver in our hand when we pass it over a counter to pay for Vogue or whatever, but all these things add up and it would be a crying shame if young girls grew up with one less female role model in the public eye to inspire them.

Caroline adds “In a country where women still don't have equal pay, where two women a week die from intimate partner violence, and where women are being all but scrubbed out of the national history curriculum, this matters. It reflects and perpetuates a culture where women have been routinely undermined and undervalued. It may be a small thing, but as amazing projects like Everyday Sexism prove, small things add up to a toxic culture where women are abused, undermined and made to feel unsafe on a regular basis.”

The Women’s Room are doing fantastic work in other areas too – they are compiling a database of female experts in a broad range of fields to try to address the issue of under-representation in our media (think of Radio 4’s The Today Programme and how unbelievable it is when they apparently can’t find a single knowledgeable woman to talk on issues like contraception, abortion etc!) Keep an eye on their website thewomensroom.org.uk and follow them on Twitter @TheWomensRoomUK

Caroline explains what needs to happen: “I want is for them to acknowledge that they did things wrong and to promise to put them right and use the Equality Act in future... Unfortunately, the Bank's attitude is incredibly belligerent, even childish, so I doubt that they will take the dignified and adult route out of this. That being the case, I need to raise £13000 in order to be able to take them to court, where hopefully a judge will force them to abide by the law of the land.”

So I am asking three things of you: firstly, sign the petition to get the Bank of England to reconsider its decision, then donate whatever you can to the campaign, and finally tell me which women you would like to see on our bank notes?