SCOTLAND'S towns and cities are littered with hundreds of statues commemorating military figures, philanthropists, artists and even famous dogs.

From the Duke of Wellington with his traffic cone in Glasgow and John Knox with his Bible in Edinburgh, to Robert Burns with his pigeons in Glasgow and Greyfriars Bobby with his sad face in the capital – one thing stands out, they are all male, even the dog.

A new survey has found there are just 20 statues celebrating individual women. But where is Mary Queen of Scots, the writer Muriel Spark, the artist Joan Eardley, the academy-award-winning actress Deborah Kerr, the pioneering medic Elsie Inglis, or the famed missionary Mary Slessor? None has been memorialised as a statue in Scotland.

A project to map memorials, run by Women's History Scotland and the Glasgow Women's Library, shows only 16 females have had their lives commemorated in this way, with five of the 20 monuments dedicated to Queen Victoria alone.

Other prominent statues of women include Jean Armour, the wife of Robert Burns, Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, writer Violet Jacobs and campaigner Linda McCartney, the late wife of Sir Paul. McCartney's statue was paid for by her husband.

Half of the statues – 10 out of 20 – were erected during the late 20th century. And four of the statues are symbolic rather than of the women themselves. The statue in Edinburgh commemorating the philanthropist Mary Dalrymple Maclagan who died in 1915 is of a Madonna and Child rather than of Maclagan herself.

Helen MacDonald, of Glasgow Women's Library, who is moderator of the Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland project, said it was not known exactly how many statues were dedicated to men compared to women in Scotland.

But she pointed to the example of George Square in Glasgow, which has 12 such monuments alone.

"Only one of those is to a woman, and that's Queen Victoria," she said. "There are around 20 statues to women across the whole of the country. In some ways it is not really entirely surprising, but unfortunately that is the case."

She added: "A lot of the public statues around the country date from the Victorian era – at that point there was Queen Victoria and no other woman was important in public perception."

The issue was highlighted in the Scottish Parliament last week by Labour MSP Anne McTaggart, who put forward a motion praising a campaign to honour Mary Barbour – Glasgow's first female councillor, who pushed for welfare reforms – with a statue. But the motion also expressed "disappointment that very few women are honoured by monuments in Scotland".

And earlier this month a campaign was launched for the first public statue of Mary, Queen of Scots to be erected in Scotland. The Marie Stuart Society wants to raise £100,000 for a full-size bronze statue of Mary, which would possibly be placed at her birthplace of Linlithgow Palace.

Examples of monuments to prominent women can be found in other major cities – for example, in London there are tributes to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, ancient queen Boudica, pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale and Margaret Thatcher. Dublin has Molly Malone, the Irish revolutionary Countess Markievicz and martyr Margaret Bell.

Scottish sculptor Kenny Hunter, whose works includes the Citizen Firefighter statue in Glasgow, backed the call for more statues of influential women in Scotland. He said: "It is a bit of a no-brainer – there are lots of dead white guys on plinths in Scotland, which doesn't really reflect current society and culture."

Hunter said it was vital not only to have monuments of women, but to place them in "significant places" to infer a status upon the work. He suggested pioneering Edinburgh doctor and suffragist Elsie Inglis, who died in 1917, would be among the suitable candidates for a new monument.

"I think Elsie Inglis would be a good one to start with – on a personal level she had to struggle so much and she gave a lot back in terms of women's suffrage and medicine," he said.

"But sometimes it is not the obvious ones – as women were working against all the odds, their stories do remain untold in a way."

SCULPTOR Andy Scott, whose works include the Heavy Horse overlooking the M8, said he was surprised there were so few statues of women. "Quite a lot of the monuments seem to be plaques and cairns and things like that, which is a bit underwhelming," he said. "Historically it is interesting as it does point out that when they were doing Victorian or Edwardian statues, the role of women in society was somewhat different."

Scott suggested Glasgow artist and sculptor Hannah Frank, who died in 2008 aged 100, could be among those suitable to be commemorated in a monument.

Over the two years in which it has been running, the Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland project has also noted seven statues dedicated to contributions to society by women – such as the Women's Timber Corps in Aberfoyle, the Herring Girls in Stornoway, a memorial to the Women's Land Army Scotland in Fochabers and the La Pasionaria statue in Glasgow, dedicated to men and women who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War against Franco and fascism.

It has also identified around 300 memorials of all forms, ranging from plaques on walls and parks to stained-glass windows and cairns.

Lynn Abrams, convenor of Women's History Scotland and professor of gender history at Glasgow University, said it was now hoped an app for mobile phones could be developed to give information on the sites which had been mapped.

But she argued that other ways could be found to continue to commemorate the achievements of women, rather than more statues.

"I think it is more important to name buildings after women, because it is something you say – whereas a statue you walk by and don't really look at it. It is important to get women's names into public life and public language, which has perhaps more of an impact than a bit of stone in the street or in a park."