The resilience of womankind

Since the bells of Big Ben chimed in the new year, we have continued to see the ascent of strong female figures in public life taking a stand against inequality and being resilient in the face of adversity.

Carrie Gracie, the China editor for the BBC, took the bold step of resigning over the “secretive and illegal” pay culture at the corporation which allegedly sees men gain far bigger incomes. Iceland became the first country in the world to make companies prove they are not paying women less than men for the same work. Oprah Winfrey gave a rousing speech at the Golden Globes, noting the generations of women who have lived, “in a culture broken by brutally powerful men” (#Winfrey2020).

We also saw the launch of the Time’s Up campaign from women who work in the entertainment industry. The objective: a unified call for change for women everywhere. “From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.”

Just last week our MP for Bristol North West, Darren Jones, publicly called out local companies who have large gender pay gaps, telling them there is “no excuse” for unequal wages.

All of this is very encouraging, but for me, the changes must start at the beginning. We need to educate our children about sexism and discrimination; raise them to understand gender equality. Sadly, as a nation, I don’t believe we are there yet.

At the end of last year, research from the National Education Union working with UK Feminista, found that two thirds of female Sixth Form students at co-ed schools have witnessed or experienced sexist language. The same report stated students educated at all-boys’ schools are significantly more likely to express strongly negative attitudes towards learning about sexism than their peers.

We cannot and should not sit back and accept this.

At Redmaids’ High, female students take all the positions of leadership and responsibility, and are able to speak out freely and with confidence, away from outdated chauvinistic views. In our girls’ school, students are taught to challenge sexist attitudes and negative stereotypes.

We teach the life-skills of understanding consent, healthy relationships, online safety and facing challenges – all essential for surviving and thriving in a society that hasn’t yet caught up with our progressive mind-set.

Here, girls become resilient, independent and expect to be heard. I’m proud to say that our students have refused to take a back seat and have broken through glass ceilings. Our alumnae include the first woman to be a member of the British Paediatric Association, the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the first woman in Bristol to become an architect. More recent leavers have become senior advisors in Downing Street, partners in international law firms, founders of charities, surgeons, lecturers, engineers: the list goes on.

I have never been more proud to head up a girls’ school and to continue to encourage our young women to become the leaders and influencers of tomorrow.

In the words of Oprah, “a new day is on the horizon”. And at Redmaids’ High, we are ready for it.

Isabel Tobias, Headmistress, Redmaids’ High School

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