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Suffragist Millicent Fawcett becomes first woman to have statue in Parliament Square

Millicent Fawcett is the only female statue in Parliament Square, standing alongside 11 historical male figures. Photo: (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The first statue of a woman in Parliament Square has been unveiled at a ceremony in Westminster.

Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett has been immortalised in bronze and now stands 8ft 4in just outside Parliament.

Millicent Fawcett is the only female statue in Parliament Square, standing alongside 11 historical male figures. (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Hers is the only female statue, standing alongside 11 historical male figures including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, and was unveiled by her great-great niece, schoolgirls from Millbank Academy and other figures in the campaign.

Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at the unveiling, said: “I would not be here today as Prime Minister, no female MPs would have taken their seats in Parliament, none of us would have had the rights and protections we now enjoy, were it not for one truly great woman, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

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“For generations to come, this statue will serve not just as a reminder of Dame Millicent’s extraordinary life and legacy, but as inspiration to all of us who wish to follow in her footsteps,” she added.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan was also among the guests.

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He said: “Today is an historic day. The decision to commission this statue was a no-brainer. It is vital that we fix the imbalance and make sure more women are represented in our public spaces.”

Jeremy Corbyn said that the statue's unveiling marked a great step forward, but added that "a lot more can be done".

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“There’s a number of women who deserve statues," the Labour leader said.

"Sylvia Pankhurst for example, and those women that suffered in Holloway Prison, in my constituency. We have named a library in honour of them – called the Cat And Mouse Library, after the Cat and Mouse laws.”

The event was hosted by BBC presenter Mishal Husain and featured poet Theresa Lola, performances from the cast of Sylvia and the Suffragist Singers and an adaptation of Fawcett’s 1918 victory speech.

Caroline Criado Perez, the Brazilian-born activist and writer, started the campaign for a statue of a woman in Parliament Square in 2016.

The idea came as she was running through Westminster on International Women’s Day and spotted statues of Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, but could not see any women.

To her dismay, she realised that all 11 figures dotted around the square were men.

She said: “Women are still woefully underrepresented, but we are making one hell of a start in changing that.”

The movement went on to gain the support of the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister, and the bronze figure was commissioned, and then produced by Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing.

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The statue also marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women voting rights for the first time.

The statue shows a 50-year-old Fawcett holding a banner which says: “Courage calls to courage everywhere.”

The line is taken from a speech made by Fawcett after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who was killed after throwing herself under King George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby.

Fawcett first started petitioning for the right to vote in 1866, gathering signatures from women across the country and lobbying politicians.

It was not until 1918 that voting rights were granted to some women, and Fawcett was in the House of Commons’ public gallery, aged 81, when women were given the vote on the same terms as men in 1928.

Fawcett died one year later, but her statue will stand for many years to come.