From the Deputy Head Master – Summer Hill
No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizensMichelle Obama
This week at Quad Assembly we acknowledged and articulated the School’s support for International Women’s Day.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The proposal received unanimous support from over one hundred women representing 17 countries.
The first International Women’s Day was held the following year on March 19th, 1911. In 1913, International Women’s Day was moved to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since.
Australia’s first International Women’s Day was held in 1928 in Sydney. Organised by the Militant Women’s Movement, women called for equal pay for equal work.
Since those early days, International Women’s Day has become a day to celebrate women’s achievements and call out attitudes and practices that continue to perpetuate gender inequality.
According to the United Nations Women – Australia, in 2021, no country in the world has achieved gender equality1.
The Head Master addressed the School on Tuesday, and on Thursday we were delighted to welcome Ms Genevieve McKeown, the 2020 Head Prefect at Meriden School to address the Assembly. Her remarks were powerful, mature and empathetic, and she has graciously permitted us to reproduce them here.
As you are aware, International Women’s Day is marked annually on the 8th of March. Mr Bowden asked me to come along today and talk to you about this significant day, particularly reflecting on my experiences with Trinity and your role in celebrating this day, and more importantly, uplifting the women in your lives.
I have had so many positive experiences at Trinity. For example, I have felt so welcome at leadership events I have attended. I had the pleasure of getting to know those of you who were in my platoon last year and we were able to have a laugh and a good time but still got lots done. Or even those of you who have come up and chatted. Conversations like that really make any person feel valued.
However, I want to tell you a story. In 2019 I was on the Sergeant’s course at Promotions Camp for Cadets along with five other girls from my grade and A LOT of you guys. On Day 2, I was duty student, the student in charge for the day and whose duty was to relay messages from the staff in charge of the course. This role came with all the challenges of having to look after a big group of people, as well as the added difficulty of being shorter than those you are trying to be in charge of and having a very soft voice. But the biggest challenge was trying to get the attention of male peers who didn’t seem to see me as an authority figure. So, the question going through my mind was: why was I not given the same acknowledgement that other people in my role had when they didn’t even really know me?
I’m using this example of me as duty student to capture something that, in my experience, is an all too common experience for many girls and young women.
Trinity provides you with so many amazing opportunities to grow in your friendships with one another and build valuable life skills. And whilst these communities that are built are incredibly encouraging and supportive environments, we can sometimes get lost in them and forget about how we should act towards others outside of our bubble and how we should be fulfilling our role in the wider community. And I am coming from the same place as all of you. I went to an all-girls school for 6 years and got to experience the loving and generous community at Meriden. But something we all have to realise is that the day will come when your time at school comes to an end and you have to step outside the gates of Trinity as young men, shaped by the friendships you have made, experiences you have had, and lessons that you have learnt.
It is in this wider community that you will find yourself working alongside women. Maybe they’ll be in charge of you, or you could be in charge of them, or maybe you are working on a project together. It is times like these that you need to acknowledge the opinions and ideas of others, communicate in a respectful way, and draw on the strengths that each individual, male or female, brings to the group. To live in a unified and cohesive society, we all need to feel a sense of belonging and value, and this begins with the way that we are treated by others. There is a continuing need for inclusive behaviour and the deliberate decision to adopt an inclusive mindset. This is something we all must work towards.
Everyone, male and female, has passions, and I am sure that each one of you can think about something you are passionate about. Maybe it’s sport – I’ve heard Liverpool is apparently the soccer team I should be supporting? Or maybe it’s your studies, or a musical instrument. Or maybe it’s a global issue or politics. Passions make us our own person and give us something to relate to others about, and they also help to provide us with motivation and drive. However, just as we have to be careful not to get lost within our own school communities, it can also be so easy to focus on ourselves and our passions and forget about others.
I think we need to be receptive and respectful of each other’s passions. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that we need a new mindset – to listen to other people’s passions before we express our own. Like me, women deserve to have the ability to express and explore their passions, but this isn’t always facilitated in the workplace or in the household. Something that Meriden and Trinity teach so well is for us to explore our passions, formulate our opinions and develop our skills to articulate and share. So, let’s listen, because everyone should have equal respect as we bravely step out and express our ideas. Because, it’s when we stop and listen that we hear things we otherwise might not have thought of, or solutions we might have overlooked. When we stop and listen, we endorse the idea that passions are important and should be pursued. Sharing our passions allows us to collaborate and explore new horizons. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s really valuable, and the potential for that to be a reality is so exciting.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’. The idea behind this is that we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions and that each of us should choose to challenge gender inequality, because challenging ideas leads to change.
Today, for International Women’s Day, 2021, I have a challenge for you. You have the capacity to choose how you think and how you act. How you think is reflected in how you act. So, my challenge is an introspective one. When anyone speaks, do you listen? In a group of friends, do you listen to other people’s perspectives? When a woman or girl speaks, do you listen? And if your answer is no, then my challenge is to proactively change that. Listening leads to a cohesive community, where people are valued and respected. So, choose to challenge one another to listen first, and then speak.
Happy International Women’s Day, Trinity. I look forward to hearing the wonderful things the students of this school will be doing and achieving as you play your part in creating a better, more equitable future.
Bradley Barr | Deputy Head Master – Summer Hill
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