Hilary founded and directed the '209 Women' initiative.
To mark 100 years since some women achieved the right to vote, an all-female photography initiative created new portraits of the UK’s female MPs. ‘209 Women’ was a national artist-led project to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage with the aim of championing the visibility of women, particularly in environments that are still largely male-dominated. A collective of women photographers from all across the UK formed to make and mark history.
The exhibition launched in the Palace of Westminster on 14 December, 100 years to the day since the first women voted in a UK general election. It then toured to the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, where it was presented as part of a year-round programme in partnership with Culture Liverpool, to champion the achievements of women and highlight the ongoing need for gender parity.
Hilary Wood was the founder and director of ‘209 Women’, she also created the first image of the series, ‘Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South’, from which the initiative evolved. Hilary felt that the initiative should be a collaborative campaign reflective of the great collective effort that brought success to the Representation of the People Act 1918 that gave women the vote, an empowering moment, and the first step towards equality for women.
Hilary said: “The idea for the exhibition came from my own experiences of gender inequality. I’ve worked mainly in male-dominated fields for the past 18 years. I’ve got two daughters and I wanted ‘209 Women’ to be part of changing ideas, perceptions and attitudes around gender so that they grow up in a society that is more gender equal. Since 1918, 4,503 men have been elected to the UK parliament – compared to just 491 women. On the centenary year of women’s suffrage, I wanted to celebrate how far we’ve come, but I also want to bring awareness to continued gender inequality by championing the visibility of women. This exhibition will bring visibility to those women that are part of making the fundamental changes to women’s equality.”
Although the suffrage movement achieved the first votes for women, there is still a long way to go to cement a culture of true gender equality across all spheres of society in the UK, particularly in positions of power. Women MPs form only 32% of the House of Commons.
Alison McGovern MP, chair of the parliamentary Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art said: “The women's movement has never been about one person’s achievement: it is about all of us. This project carries out that vision, including all kinds of women from all kinds of backgrounds. It is a subtle but very true statement of equality. The focus in politics has rightly been on getting a critical mass of women involved. But it is the same issue in many sectors, including art itself. The works will show that women can and ought to be portrayed in all their diversity. There is no one way to be a woman artist, to be a woman politician, to be a woman.”
Photography has become one of the primary ways that we reflect and communicate our vision of the world. Through images, we gain a sense not only of how things are, but also how things could be.
This project carries so much potential in communicating our vision of gender parity, pointing to a society where policy is made with people of all genders in mind.
‘209 Women’ was founded and directed by Hilary Wood. Hilary curated the exhibition along with her curatorial team, Tracy Marshall (Director of Development and Partnerships at Open Eye Gallery), Cheryl Newman (Artist, curator and former Director of Photography of the Telegraph magazine) and Lisa Tse (Brand Consultant, TV Producer and founder of women’s club The Sorority). They were supported by ambassador Rosemary Reed.