Sexism row after new passport celebrates seven men and two women


A sexism row has erupted after the new UK passport was presented as showcasing the country's cultural heritage - while celebrating just two women.

Mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace and architect Elisabeth Scott are depicted in the latest design, which was unveiled today.

By contrast, seven men including William Shakespeare, artist John Constable and sculptor Anish Kapoor are represented.

The revelations triggered claims that women are "being airbrushed out of history".

The new 34-page passport's theme is Creative United Kingdom, which official literature said features "some of the best achievements of the last 500 years in Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

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

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

"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 figures from literature such as Jane Austen, 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."

Scott designed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The new design was said to have been developed by the Passport Office and authorised by ministers

Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweeted: "Here we go again - new UK #passport has 7 men featured and just 2 women."

MP Stella Creasy also criticised the selection, suggesting a number of possible female inclusions such as Barbara Hepworth, Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, said: "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. This is completely unacceptable."

Other men featured in the new book are architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, artist Sir Antony Gormley, computer pioneer Charles Babbage and John Harrison, a clockmaker who invented the marine timekeeper.

Other pages are devoted to Stephenson's Rocket - the world's first modern steam locomotive, the London Underground, the Penny Black stamp, Shakespeare's Globe theatre, cultural festivals such as Caribbean carnivals and Chinese New Year and famous locations including the Houses of Parliament.

A portrait of Shakespeare is used for the security watermark on each page.

Presenting the new passport in London, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said it will "showcase the great successes of UK culture".

He added: "From the time of Shakespeare's writing and through to the present day the UK has been a global leader in the creative industries."

Officials said the new passport was the most secure ever produced, with a host of new features to limit the risk of tampering or forgery.

They include embedded security fibres, a perforated version of the holder's passport number and enhanced holograms.

Mr Thomson said: "This is the most secure passport we have ever produced. Try forging this  - it's going to be very, very difficult indeed. 

"I think this is good enough to make someone just not bother. We think it's pretty damn good."

A new passport is launched in the UK every five years. The new version has been produced as part of a 10-year £400 million contract.

A standard passport currently costs £72.50. Mr Thomson said: "There are no plans to change the price of a basic passport."

The new document will be phased in from December.