Yesterday turned into somewhat of a celebration at Ascham of how girls and women have changed and are changing our world, together with a reminder of what needs to be done still to make this world a fairer, more equal and more harmonious place. To a certain extent, every day in a girls’ school is both a celebration along these lines, and a reminder, but yesterday was especially pointed in this respect, and it was a heartening day.
The theme for the excellent Year 6 School assembly was Human Rights, with a particular focus on Women’s Rights, and we were taken on a whirlwind but highly effective tour through the ages from 1895, when women were first given the vote in Australia, right through to 2013, when (as the girls pointed out), there are still issues of gender balance on boards and in leadership roles. The girls’ amazement and incredulity on learning that until 1966, women were obliged to resign from their posts in public office when they married, was hugely encouraging; that they could not envisage a society in which married women were prohibited from working simply because they were married was worth a celebration in its own right.
Later the same day, the Senior School welcomed a guest speaker to its assembly – Jenny Orchard, who represented Room to Read, a very effective organisation working to raise literacy and education levels of children, and especially girls, in several countries in the world. She showed us an extract from the film ˜Half the Sky“, which reflects the aim of the eponymous movement (and book), to “turn oppression into opportunity” for women worldwide. The audience – a theatre full of girls – was reminded that when a girl is educated, a village is educated too.
This Sunday (or Monday, depending where you are in the world), CNN are showing a powerful film which critics have praised for its focus on the importance of girls’ education: ˜Girl Rising“. “Watch it if you can; watch ˜Half the Sky” if you can. While inequality and gender discrimination exist, we cannot afford not to remind ourselves, and to prompt ourselves to do something to make change happen.
We are surrounded by louder and louder voices that tell us what we have always known deep down: that educating girls makes a difference, that educating girls is the right thing to do, and that educating girls is what we should all take as a major focus in our lives, right now. The girls at my school know that they have a great education. They know too that they have a responsibility to effect change. And they are ready for the challenge.
Bring on the girls.