1 Jul 2013

Can Carney be convinced on banknote battle?

As Mark Carney takes over at the Bank of England, Caroline Criado-Perez, the campaigner fighting to keep women on English banknotes, writes about why the new governor should take note.

Winston Churchill will be on the next batch of five pound notes.

This morning, The Telegraph published an open letter to Mark Carney, the new governor of the Bank of England. In it, I ask Carney for a meeting – a request which his predecessor twice ignored – about the future of our banknotes.

As things stand, the bank proposes to remove the only female historical figure from the notes that they issue, and replace her with Churchill. They have also repeatedly refuted the relevance of the 2010 equality act to this decision and seem bent on retaining a decision which, after all, has nothing to do with the economy, as their unilateral prerogative.

But why should they? Banknotes are something that we all must use; it is this that has made them historically a vehicle for political messages. And make no mistake, they are still fulfilling that purpose: the selection of who we value is inevitably a political one. Orwell wrote that “who controls the past, controls the future”. And the version of our history proposed by the bank is exclusively male.

Read more: Is Mark Carney all he is cracked up to be?

Women valued at ‘low price’

If this sounds too doomsday for you, be convinced by the growing body of research demonstrating that to deny young women role models significantly curtails their aspirations and achievements. This is something we have been doing to our girls for too long.

There are hundreds of brilliant women who achieved against the odds, whose names we simply do not know – Rosalind Franklin being perhaps the paradigmatic example. It is a travesty that she was not recognised for her crucial work – both for her, and for those young women who might have followed in her footsteps.

This argument extends beyond the jobs women do and into a wider question of how we value women in our culture. And the answer is that we value them at a low price – and that goes for equal pay as well as an unwillingness to invest in crucial women’s services that are there when we are abused, that are there when we are raped. Banknotes may seem trivial compared to rape, but they reflect and perpetuate a culture where we are valued so little that violence against women has recently been described by the World Health Organisation as a global health problem of epidemic proportions.

Convincing the Bank of England of the importance of female representation may only be one small victory. It will not change our sexist culture overnight. Women will not suddenly be able to walk down the street free of harassment; young girls will not suddenly start feeling they can achieve anything. But it will be a start.

Caroline Criado-Perez is co-founder of The Women’s Room and the campaign: Keep a woman on English banknotes.