Campaigners dressed as the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the warrior queen Boudicca and other historical female figures protested outside the Bank of England on Friday as they continued their call for women to feature on banknotes.
The protesters said they were delivering a 30,000-signature petition to the Bank demanding it reverse the decision to replace the only woman on English banknotes, Elizabeth Fry, with a man.
The move comes ahead of a meeting next week between campaigners and officials from the Bank's notes division after the new governor, Mark Carney, appeared to share the campaigners' concerns.
A row erupted over the representation of women on banknotes when Carney's predecessor, Sir Mervyn King, announced as one of his final decisions in the job that Sir Winston Churchill would appear on £5 notes in place of the social reformer Fry. She and Florence Nightingale are the only two women, other than the Queen, to have appeared on English banknotes since they started portraying historical figures in 1970. The move has sparked threats of legal action against the bank under the 2010 Equality Act.
In their petition, led by The Women's Room, the campaigners argue: "This decision perpetuates the damaging myth that women have contributed nothing to history, and adds to the still persistent sense amongst young women that public life is not for them."
The Women's Room co-founder, Caroline Criado-Perez, said the gathering of costumed women at the Bank on Friday and an invitation for women to post pictures of themselves dressed as historic figures under the Twitter hashtag #womenonbanknotes were a positive celebration of women's achievements.
"This isn't a difficult ask. There is an embarrassment of women to choose from. The difficulty is choosing between them, not trying to find them," she said.
Carney was quick to address the issue this week. Just two days into the job, the Canadian said he understood the concerns about the loss of a female character on English banknotes and promised a final decision by the end of the month.
In a letter to the Conservative MP Mary Macleod, Carney said he had raised the issue with colleagues on Monday, his first day in the job. "I consider Sir Winston Churchill to be an excellent choice to appear on a banknote," he wrote. "However, I fully recognise that, with Sir Winston replacing Elizabeth Fry as the character on the £5 note – in the absence of any other changes to the Bank of England's notes – none of the four characters on our notes would be a woman. That is not the Bank's intention.
"I believe that our notes should celebrate the diversity of great British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields."
King said in his final appearance as governor that it was "extremely unlikely that we will ever find ourselves with no women on our banknotes" and revealed that the author Jane Austen was being lined up as a possible figure for future notes.
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