A voice for all

I have recently returned from a special centenary visit to Hong Kong and Thailand. We may have been largely untroubled by the pro-democracy protests that were making international headlines during our visit but, as the Chinese authorities clamped down on the demos, it sent shockwaves across the world – including here at Headington. We have girls who share different perspectives and there is little doubt that this is a big step for the young people of Hong Kong and a struggle that is close to the hearts of our own Far East students. Closer still perhaps to our special guest during the visit, Anson Chan, the former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong both before and after the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 and the founder of the Hong Kong 2020 democracy advocacy group.

We were delighted to welcome Anson to our gala reception and dinner in Hong Kong, as part of our centenary celebrations, where she gave a talk entitled ‘Educating for life in the 21st Century – the British Advantage’. We were equally honoured to then welcome her to give a lecture at school on our return to England on ‘Women in Leadership’. As an articulate supporter of democracy and campaigner for civil liberties, she also proved to be an equally inspirational speaker on education, career and family, even when undoubtedly tired from the all the press attention she is currently getting, including during her visit to Headington.

Mrs Chan is warm and gracious, yet sharply intelligent and strong in her beliefs. As a champion for the equality of women as a fundamental right, she made the ideal speaker for our Janet Young Memorial Lecture. To mirror the spirit of our founders in this our centenary year, she spent much of her adult life challenging the status quo – stemming from the same blend of compassion and fire that we are used to seeing in the girls that pass through our gates. During her speech on ‘Women in Leadership’ on Friday she spoke to a packed theatre about her upbringing and career and how she achieved against the odds at every step of the way.

We want our girls to be socially and politically aware and in the last two weeks they have experienced a passionate Scottish referendum debate and now they have heard from a high profile political figure and campaigner for democracy. The Scottish question raised the issue of voting at 16 years of age, while the Hong Kong situation highlighted the urgent need for every person in modern society to have equal say. I see it all around school how switched on the girls are and I am certainly in favour of giving young people a voice at the earliest opportunity.

This brings us back to the protests in Hong Kong and the way those young people have – literally and metaphorically – found their voice in the face of a perceived inequality. It is thanks to the hard work of visionaries like Anson Chan that wider society – including the women of yesteryear – have been given a voice and are able to challenge convention, just as at Headington we very much welcome different perspectives. It brings to mind our school founders and their passion to provide women with real opportunity and to raise the glass ceiling of the time. With people like these as the standard bearers for our girls, it is little wonder that this school has such a history of inclusivity and a student body that is so open, engaged and motivated.

Caroline Jordan, Headmistress, Headington School

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