This week Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, announced Winston Churchill will replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry as the face of £5 notes. This means that, other than the Queen, there will be no women featuring on our English bank notes.
An all-male line-up on our banknotes sends out the damaging message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear. This is patently untrue. Not only have numerous women emerged as leading figures in their fields, they have done so against the historic odds stacked against them which denied women a public voice and relegated them to the private sphere - making their emergence into public life all the more impressive and worthy of celebration.
People will perhaps say that the Queen appears on all the notes. But the Queen would be there whatever she achieved - she was born into her position. The men on the banknotes - Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and soon, Winston Churchill - are all there because of what they have done, not because of who their parents were.
This decision by the Bank of England is yet another example of women’s considerable achievements being overlooked in favour of the usual (male) suspects - and yet another example of how the establishment undervalues the contributions of women to history - and indeed to the present. The significance of this decision is further underlined by the fact that Darwin is actually our oldest note - by two years. Why isn’t he being replaced?
It matters because young women growing up see a parliament that is 57th equal in the world when it comes to female representation; a media where only 1 in 5 experts is a woman; and a business world where female directors represent only 16.7% of the total.
Currency, as its name suggests, is fundamental to our daily lives. These notes will change hands every hour, every minute, every second. And every time they do, the message will drive a little deeper home: women do not belong in public life - they never have, and they never will.
We call on the Bank of England to reverse this decision, and not add another straw to the establishment weight on the shoulders of young women telling them that they will amount to nothing - after all, their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers didn’t. Why should they be any different?