Sexism row over new UK passport design

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Elisabeth Scott, the architect of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford, is one of two women in the new passport

The government has been accused of sexism over the new UK passport design, which commemorates the achievements of two women but seven men.

The redesign focuses on UK figures and landmarks from the past 500 years.

Architect Elisabeth Scott and mathematician Ada Lovelace are the only women to feature.

Government officials defended the design, but Labour's shadow employment secretary Emily Thornberry said it was "exasperating", adding: "We exist."

MP Stella Creasy also criticised the redesign, while gender equality campaign group the Fawcett Society accused the government of "airbrushing" women out of history.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Mathematician and early computer programmer Ada Lovelace was the other woman featured, alongside Charles Babbage

Minister for Immigration James Brokenshire launched the new passport at Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London, along with representatives from the Passport Office.

The theme for the new 34-page passport is "Creative United Kingdom", and a portrait of Shakespeare is used for the security watermark on each page.

The seven men showcased in the new passport are playwright William Shakespeare, artists John Constable, Anish Kapoor and Sir Antony Gormley, architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, computer pioneer Charles Babbage and John Harrison, a clockmaker who invented the marine clock.

The document also highlights the Rocket locomotive, the Angel of the North and Edinburgh Castle among other historic people, places, events and achievements.

Missed opportunity

The design was criticised by Ms Thornberry, who tweeted: "Here we go again - new UK passport has 7 men featured and just 2 women. We exist."

Speaking to the BBC, she said: "This is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women as well.

"We have had this fight about bank notes and now it's about passports.

"I just feel as though we are here all over again."

Ms Creasy also criticised the selection, asking her Twitter followers to send the Home Office their suggestions of female inclusions such as Barbara Hepworth, Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter.

"Come on Twitter, let's help the Home Office out as they clearly don't know the UK's women creatives," she said.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the move was "completely unacceptable".

"Instead of being celebrated and remembered, great British women are being airbrushed out of history.

"They could have included the first feminist and writer Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Virginia Woolf, Bridget Riley - the list is endless," she said.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
James Brokenshire, Minister for Immigration, shows off pages from the new design at Shakespeare's Globe

Mark Thomson, director general of the Passport Office, defended the design.

"It wasn't something where we said 'let's set out to only have two women'," he said.

"In trying to celebrate the UK's creativity we tried to get a range of locations and things around the country to celebrate our triumphs over the years, so there we are."

Asked about the omission of female icons such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, he said: "Whenever we do these things there is always someone who wants their favourite rock band or icon in the book.

"We've got 16 pages, a very finite space. We like to feel we've got a good representative view celebrating some real icons of the UK - Shakespeare, Constable and of course Elisabeth Scott herself."

The decision to include two women and seven men was signed off by ministers, and the figures included were a "good representation" of artists and designers, he added.

More secure

Mr Brokenshire said the new passport design was "the most secure that the UK has ever issued" thanks to advanced printing technology with UV and infrared light, inks and watermarks.

"The UK passport has an international reputation as a trusted and secure travel document, and we work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of the criminals who attempt to abuse the UK's immigration laws," he said.

Work on the new design was started more than two years ago as part of a 10 year, £400m contract.

A new passport is launched in the UK every five years, but Mr Thomson confirmed that the current price for a standard passport, £72.50, would not change.

The new passport is due to be rolled out in phases, starting in December 2015.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott appears in the new passport with Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and a red telephone box
Image source, PA
Image caption,
A portrait of inventor John Harrison is illustrated in the passport, next to sketches of his marine clock

More on this story