A marvellous day – and a tremendous cause

What historic times we are living in! Yesterday – the day of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on the Thames – may have dawned grey and cold, and the rain may have caught up with us all before the afternoon was out, but there was no denying the fact that everyone who was present on the riverbanks or the bridges of London shared in marvelling that this was an occasion that would not happen again in our lifetime, if ever. For a monarch to reign for 60 years is an amazing feat of longevity; to have done so, as our Queen has, with dignity and honour, through the vicissitudes and upheavals of the twentieth century, is remarkable. The Thames was covered – literally, covered – in boats of all shapes and sizes, and the view downriver as they passed and the flotilla grew in front of our eyes was breathtaking. Canaletto’s 1747 painting of the Royal Pageant may have communicated similar vibrant colours, but it could not communicate the music, the cheers, and the roar of excitement when the Royal Barge came into view, with Her Majesty aboard. The crowds were there to honour the duty she has demonstrated to her country, through thick and thin, and they were not to be dissuaded by the weather.

 We – girls, staff and parents from St Mary’s Calne, along with girls and staff from other girls’ schools (amongst whom I counted at least two other Headmistresses!) – were celebrating on Waterloo Bridge, from where we had a super view, but our purpose was a dual one. We were there to honour the Queen, but we were also there to support the work of Plan UK, and in particular their ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign. This campaign, about which I have written before (and will continue to write, as I believe passionately in it) is all about highlighting – and changing – the fact that 75 million girls across the world are not in education, and yet all evidence shows that when you educate a girl, you make a significant difference not only to her life, but to the life of her family, her community and even her country.

The Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, has been a great advocate over the years for female empowerment in the developing world, and her endorsement earlier this year at the meeting of the Heads of State of the Commonwealth countries in Perth, Australia, of Plan’s campaign to end early and forced marriage was a huge boost to community workers across the world who have been trying to end this harmful and abusive practice. Thus there was a great synergy in play when Plan UK was chosen by the Royal Household to be one of only three charities to line the bridges during the Royal Pageant. To be a part of it was amazing and inspiring in equal measure; the girls present on the bridge know that while much has changed for women in the world in the past 60 years, much more must change in the next 60 years, and it will be up to them to make the difference that the world needs.

Yesterday was a landmark – a celebration of the present and past. Standing on Waterloo Bridge amongst the crowds, I knew – and so did they – that it was also a call to move forward to a better, stronger, fairer future. Help the cause; support Plan today!

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