Oxford has apologised after a picture of a female cleaner scrubbing out the words “Happy International Women’s Day” from the Clarendon steps went viral.

Oxford Associate Professor of Political theory, Dr Sophie Smith, tweeted the photo of an unidentified cleaner scrubbing off the chalk graffiti, prompting an angry backlash and over 3,000 retweets.

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Smith claimed an onlooking group of male university security officials had made the cleaner remove the graffitti.

The image was branded “shameful” by some Twitter users, with one saying: “having a woman scrub off chalk that says Happy International Woman’s Day while some blokes stand around in the background isn’t a good look.”

Twitter user Jessie Raymond added: “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

Others remarked on the poignancy of the image, with one tweeting: “Wow. Is this a photo or a Banksy?”

Oxford University apologised for the incident, saying it was “deeply sorry”.

In response, Smith demanded the university give the cleaner “a heartfelt apology, a warm cup of tea, the rest of the day off and, along with all our precarious staff, good enough pay to live in this city.”

The incident followed an International Women’s Day rally organised by picketing UCU trade unionists and students outside the Clarendon Building.