The UK’s new passport design is offending millions of women and three countries

A screenshot of a British passport taken from the UK government website.
A screenshot of a British passport shown on the UK government website. 

Britain’s redesigned passport has been hailed as the most secure travel document ever issued by the UK, featuring what the government calls "some of the most advanced technology and security measures around."

It’s also probably the most controversial.

The theme for the new passport is "Creative United Kingdom" and it's ostensibly a celebration of British creativity and innovation over the past 500 years.  

Yet of the nine people featured in the 34-page booklet, only two are women and not a single person is from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, which, you might recall, are three of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom.

The two women are architect Elisabeth Scott and 19th century mathematician Ada Lovelace. The men include William Shakespeare, artist Anish Kapoor and computer pioneer Charles Babbage, among others. Several famous UK buildings and iconic landscapes also make appearances.  

When asked about the lack of women in the new travel document, Passport Office Director General Mark Thomson said it wasn’t intentional.

“It wasn’t something where we set out to only have two women,” he told the Guardian.

“In trying to celebrate UK creativity over the last 500 years we tried to get a range of locations, a range of things around the country, and to celebrate our triumphs and icons over the years. So there we are. Whenever you do these things, there is always someone who wants their favorite rock band or their local icon or something else in the book. In fact, we have got 16 (visa) pages, and very finite space. We like to feel we have got a good representation."

Millions of women and three countries might disagree.

“This was an opportunity to reflect and celebrate on the contribution of all UK nations,” Welsh politician Hywel Williams told Wales Online.

“I’m incredulous that Wales will have no representation on new passports. A passport is both a definer and a symbol of our identity. It is outrageous that this symbol contains nothing from Wales."

The Labour Party's Shadow Employment Secretary Emily Thornberry expressed her outrage on Twitter over the travel document that many have labeled sexist. 

And this from Thornberry's Labour Party colleague Stella Creasy, who had pushed to get Jane Austen on the 10 pound note.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of gender equality advocacy group Fawcett Society, said "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," Smethers told the BBC.

Plenty of social media users agreed.

But others suggested the row over the revamped passport was nothing more than a storm in a teacup. 

British authorities could have avoided all the fuss, of course, if they had just followed the lead of the United States or Australia, which feature inoffensive images of landscapes, native animals and ordinary people herding cattle and playing sports in their passports.

On the bright side, the new travel document will only be around for five years. Next time the UK might go back to innocuous pictures of birds.