Why the Jane Austen banknote victory is important

25 July 2013

It may seem like a small victory in a world of much larger issues, but it is important.

Jane Austen will appear on the next £10 note issued by the Bank of England.

The decision averts a long-term lack of women being represented on currency notes.

Ms Austen is scheduled to replace Charles Darwin, possibly in 2017.

Earlier this year the Bank announced that that the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry was to be replaced by Winston Churchill in 2016.

Apart from the present Queen, Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Fry are the only women appearing on Bank of England notes in the past 40 years.

The decision to replace Elizabeth Fry with a man provoked a furious, well-organised campaign to reverse it.

One online petition said :

“ 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 turn-around is important because the presence of individuals on Bank of England currency is a mark of their achievements and the absence of women would have been a mark of how lowly women’s achievements were assessed.

This undervaluation of women’s work fits in with the second class status that women have in the wider world of equal pay, job segregation, career prospects, representation in Parliament , public bodies, and company boards, and even the age profile of female presenters of TV programmes.

In Scotland women’s achievements are honoured on bank notes through  the presence on the £10 note of the famous Dundee-based missionary , Mary Slessor.

 On the £50  note is Elsie Inglis who set up the first woman-run maternity hospital in Scotland and was active in the campaign for women’s rights, joining the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1906.

More recognition needs to given to women ‘s achievements on Scottish bank notes.

If the US golfer Jack Nicklaus has been so honoured, why not Scottish women?

For the moment,  let us welcome the decision by the Bank of England that Jane Austen will appear on its new bank notes.

After some Persuasion, the bank has swallowed its Pride, and acknowledged its duty to eliminate Prejudice.


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