Debating the Suffragette Statue
Earlier this week, a petition was announced. Set up by Caroline Criado-Perez (the feminist who previously got Jane Austen on the £10 note in 2014) and Telegraph Women [x], it asked for a statue of a suffragette to be placed in Parliament Square by 2018. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – and they are all men.
The petition got mixed reactions. On one side were people who immediately signed the petition and supported the idea, whilst on the other side were people who questioned the importance and validity of a statue. The petition received over 70,000 signatures, and Sadiq Khan – the new mayor of London – agreed on the 12th to erect the statue. Comparatively, a petition and campaign that has been hash tagged #PredatoryPeacekeepers, regarding the alleged abuses by U.N and French troops on girls in the Central African Republic, has only gained 7,024 signatures so far – and has been running for a significantly longer amount of time.
It is easy to argue that the statue of a suffragette is not the most pressing issue that feminists are facing in 2016. In the UK, we are having vital services closed due to funding cuts. More and more victims of domestic violence are being turned away from services and refuges: 2/3 of women who approach a London refuge for help are turned away because there isn't enough space. The wage gap still exists. There is still honour-based violence and forced marriage rife throughout the country. And internationally, we are facing a crisis. Rape, abuse, violence, victimisation, racism, prejudice, slavery, trafficking, and discrimination: women throughout the world are facing these problems on a second-by-second, minute-by-minute basis.
Let’s take the #PredatoryPeacekeepers campaign as an example. According to a December 2015 report by the AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue campaign, it was found that U.N. and French troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) abused at least 98 girls. The petition page states: “At least 98 girls from the Central African Republic were sexually abused by United Nations peacekeepers and French troops and four of the girls were forced to have sex with a dog by a French commander, the U.S.-based AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue campaign said in a press release Wednesday” [x]. The petition’s goals are quite simple, too. They want accountability, prosecution of those who committed the crimes, and care and support for the victims.
Yet for some reason, this petition has not gained even half of the amount of signatures as the suffragette statue one, and the media is holding its collective tongue. Is it because there are no famous celebrities signing this petition, like Emma Watson (who is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador)? Is it because this petition focuses on young black women from the Central African Republic, not white feminists from the UK?
Representation is important: nobody is questioning that. By excluding women from having a statue in Parliament Square, it sends a message that suggests that no woman in history has done enough to earn a statue there. It erases our history and silences us. A statue of a suffragette is a great way to represent the hard work that our sisters before us have done, and is a brilliant way to inspire future generations. I’m sure that Caroline Criado-Perez does not only care about her suffragette statue project, and nor do any of the other 70,000 people who signed the petition. But the problem is that these so-called “celebrity” feminists do not use their position of power to draw attention to things that could really make a difference. And the media is quick to ignore anything that does not come from the mouth of somebody well-known.
We have so many organisations in the UK that campaign for women’s rights - such as Sisters Uncut, who go out of their way to make a statement with every form of direct action they take, whether that is staging die-ins or turning the fountains of Trafalgar Square as red as blood. Yet they receive nothing more than a few mentions in a couple of articles every now and again, and are hardly the centre of attention. The media is eager to show us more superficial and easily-resolved feminist issues than the hard-hitting problems that affect women on a significant level.
Sisters Uncut at Trafalger Square
I have no problem with a suffragette statue: I think it’s awesome, and I can’t wait to see it. But I doubt that it is going to make a difference to the thousands of abused, poor, homeless, starving, or otherwise broken women in our country. It will not provide them food, or refuge. It will not save their lives. If the media wants to talk about feminism, it needs to address all aspects of feminism - even the ugly parts. Even the awful things that nobody wants to think about whilst they’re sipping their morning coffee and reading the newspaper.
Words by Sophie Elliott