Victory for British feminists as Austen named face of £10 note

LONDON (AFP) - Feminists rejoiced on Wednesday after the Bank of England announced that the face of author Jane Austen will appear on Britain's new £10 (S$20) note, following an outcry over the lack of women represented on banknotes.

An image of the Pride and Prejudice author will replace that of Charles Darwin from 2017, the central bank said.

Campaigners hailed the decision as "a brilliant day for women and a fantastic one for people power" after 35,000 people signed an online petition to put a woman on the new note.

The Bank of England announced in April that the image of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill would be put on the £5 note from 2016, replacing the face of 19th century social reformer Elizabeth Fry.

This would have left Queen Elizabeth II, whose face is on every British coin and banknote, as the only woman.

"Without this campaign, without the 35,000 people who signed our petition, the Bank of England would have unthinkingly airbrushed women out of history," said journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, who set up the online petition.

Scores of women dressed as inspirational figures such as militant women's rights campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst and the warrior queen Boudicca handed the petition to the bank earlier this month.

Born in 1775, Austen was known for poking fun at the English aristocracy in her gently witty novels, as well as highlighting the frustrations faced by the women of her time.

Along with Pride and Prejudice, her most famous works include Emma, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility.

Austen is only the third female historical figure to win a place on a banknote since the policy was introduced in 1970.

The Bank of England said on Wednesday that it had never been its intention to leave British banknotes without a single woman on them.

"We want people to have confidence in our commitment to diversity," said Bank of Governor Mark Carney.

"Jane Austen certainly merits a place in the select group of historical figures to appear on our banknotes," he added.

"Her novels have an enduring and universal appeal and she is recognised as one of the greatest writers in English literature."

The bank said it was inviting people to e-mail selections on how it can improve its process for selecting historical figures to appear on banknotes.

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