Visible Women

This exhibition will celebrate the UK’s female MPs – and you can help make it happen

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Moya Crockett
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The 209 Women photography project aims to increase the visibility of women politicians, 100 years after women were first allowed to stand as MPs.

There are currently 209 women MPs sitting in the House of Commons. This is the highest female representation has ever been in UK politics, but we’re still nowhere near total gender parity. More than two-thirds (67%) of current MPs are men – and it was only last year that the number of women elected to Parliament since 1918 finally outstripped the number of sitting male MPs.

Now, a photographer hopes to boost the visibility of the UK’s female MPs – and encourage other women to pursue careers in politics – with an exhibition spotlighting each and every one of them. The 209 Women project will see 209 UK-based female photographers take portraits of each of the women MPs across the nation, culminating in an exhibition in Parliament.

The project is the brainchild of London-based portrait photographer Hilary Wood. She is currently running a Crowdfunder campaign to support the initiative and hopes the money raised will enable the 209 portraits to go on show at a free exhibition at Portcullis House in Westminster.

The exhibition is due to open on 14 December 2018 – the 100th anniversary of the general election in which some British women were allowed to vote and stand as MPs for the first time. 

Behind the scenes on photographer Sarah Lee’s shoot with SNP MP Hannah Bardell 

“The idea for the exhibition came from my own experiences of gender inequality,” Wood tells Stylist.co.uk. “I’ve worked mainly in male-dominated fields for the past 18 years. I’ve got two daughters and I wanted to be part of changing things so that they grow up in a society that is more gender equal.

Wood points out that 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 in power,” she says.

“This exhibition will bring visibility to those women that are part of making the fundamental changes to women’s equality.”

Behind the scenes on Diane Abbott’s shoot with Karen Knorr 

We’re used to seeing formal portraits and press shots of politicians, but the 209 Women photos are entirely different: intimate, natural and relaxed, not stiff or intrusive. Labour MP Alison McGovern says that diversity of the portraits reflect the range of women currently working in UK politics and photography.

“The works will show that women can and ought to be portrayed in all their diversity,” she says. “There is no one way to be a woman artist, to be a woman politician, to be a woman.”

McGovern adds: “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 209 Women exhibition has the backing of the Royal Photographic Society and Liverpool City Council. After being displayed in Westminster until February 2019, it will travel to the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, to be exhibited in partnership with Culture Liverpool.

Check out the photographs already created as part of the 209 Women project on Instagram, and support the project here.

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign aims to raise the profiles of women in politics – and inspire future generations to follow their lead. See more Visible Women stories here

Main image: An outtake from photographer Gemma Day’s shoot with Janet Daby MP. All images courtesy 209 Women

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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