6 APRIL 18
BY Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, FORMER FAWCETT CHAIR

She looks so like me I feel as if I have acquired a brand-new twin! Leicester University unveiled a life-sized and very life-like portrait of me last week, in recognition of my role as the first woman, and the only woman of colour, to be elected President of Leicester University Students’ Union in 1975.

My portrait is one of three new paintings of women by women artists unveiled to celebrate International Women’s Day and the Centenary of the Women’s vote. Way back in the 70’s, our women’s liberation group was already protesting about the lack of women in images around the campus - a reflection of the woeful absence of diversity just about everywhere in public life.

These days universities and colleges all over the country are at last beginning to do something about it. This is the biggest and most diverse student population we’ve ever had in the UK, and it’s about time that was reflected in the images we see around us on campus.

It’s exciting to think this will be the first time in its history that women have been featured on the walls in the Council Room at Leicester, which up until now have been dominated by images of middle-aged white male Chancellors. I feel especially honoured to have my portrait up there, because I once led a student sit-in the very same building in the 1970s, and I thought they would never forgive me!

At first, I imagined a painting of me delivering a rousing speech, in the manner of my heroine Angela Davis, big afro and all. But it was not to be; they did mean 'sit for a painting', as in, sit down. But how get across what I stand for – solidarity, equality, diversity, being part of a movement - whilst sitting on a chair, keeping still? I was lucky enough to be painted by the talented artist Megan McMullan, who has expertly captured the message in her stunning painting. She has pictured me wearing the Suffragette colours, Green White and Violet in my African cloth, combining my Feminism with my Ghanaian-British Heritage. Instead of the usual static portrait gazing outwards, I’m moving my hands, in conversation with the viewer, conveying the spirit of activism that has fired me up all my life. The small pictures on the wall beside my chair tell the story – my election as student President, my enstoolment as traditional Queen of Development of my village in Ghana, and my work as an international women’s rights activist and facilitator.

Getting more diversity on our walls and plinths is so important - having stories and images around that look like you, something I never had as a kid growing up. Hopefully it will inspire future generations of young women and people of colour to get out there, fulfil their aspirations, and become active in public life.

But we can’t stop there. This isn’t about tokenism, or joining the patriarchy around the walls. In the current climate, thanks to the me too campaign, many organisations and institutions across the globe – including the movie industry, the media, political parties and international charities - are painfully waking up to the fact that diversity isn’t enough by itself. We have to change the culture and the systems from within if we are going to get shared power, real respect, and lasting change.