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4 November 2015

Yes, it does matter that there are just two women on Britain’s new passports

It comes back to the prevailing belief provided you have some women somewhere, you’ve done your bit for gender equality. 

By Kate Green

Here we go again. The announcement this week that the new UK passport, designed to celebrate 500 years of arts and culture, will feature just two women repeats the pattern of underplaying women’s contribution to our country.

Last year’s outcry at the failure of the Bank of England to think of including a single woman on its banknotes appears to have taught the Home Office little. Of course, two women is better than none at all – but given the number of men who are featured, it’s a far cry from equal representation.

This seems to reflect a prevailing belief that provided you have some women somewhere, you’ve done your bit for gender equality. It’s not just public institutions that have a problem. Lord Davies was last week proposing corporate boards should be set a target of 33 per cent women. But why not 50/50?

There will be some who say that women have more important things to worry about than how many of us are portrayed in the pages of our passport. But the invisibility of women tells young women and girls that they shouldn’t have equal aspirations to men, that they can’t hope to achieve what men can, that those who have contributed the most to our country and are worthy of recognition and prestige are men, not women. It tells the world that we don’t value women’s contributions equally.

Given the emphasis so often laid by ministers on the importance of role models for young women, it’s disappointing to say the least that where the government itself could hold up women exemplars, it should fail to do so. But that’s what happens when your commitment to equality is only lip service.

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