Spotlight On: Towards Equality

26 May 2023


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 26 May 2023.

The other night, a rather serious family conversation about propaganda – prompted by a homework assignment – took a lighter turn when I found a sketch on YouTube by the British comedian Harry Enfield. A “Public Improvement Film” in grainy black-and-white reminiscent of early Pathé News footage sets out the dire consequences of women seeking an education and engaging in intelligent discussion, ranging from social embarrassment and brain overload, all the way to “ugliness, premature ageing and beard growth”! The humour in its satirical message to women – “Know Your Limits” – comes from its absurdity, and the historic setting offers the viewer some comfort that they are mocking attitudes of the past.  But after the initial laughter, the question surfaced as to whether we were justified in that comfort.

In much of the world huge strides have been made towards gender equality since the era depicted in that sketch but, even in the most successful countries, being born female still sets you at a disadvantage. Australia ranks only 43rd in the world for gender equality and the data suggests that my son is likely to significantly out-earn his sisters if current trends persist, as men on average earn $254 more than women a week. This financial disparity continues into retirement with women holding 23% less superannuation than men of the same age. The challenges experienced elsewhere in the world are profound, such as Afghanistan where girls are banned from school from the age of 12 and women are prevented from working and limited in their ability to leave their homes.

The restrictions placed on the education of girls by extremists such as the Taliban and Boko Haram are very deliberate. The Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies concludes that “the lack of a safe schooling environment creates a chain of negative consequences for the future lives of girls, such as loss of education, early marriage, early pregnancy, and increased rates of sexual violence and the stigma associated with these attacks. When girls drop out of school, it becomes more difficult to re-enter the school system. Out of school girls are often forced to stay home and take up domestic chores, which exposes them to greater threats of domestic violence. However, when girls have access to education, they escape early pregnancy and marriage and are more likely to continue their education to higher levels. This, in turn, provides girls with the opportunities to fulfill their highest potential and become self-reliant.”

There is a wealth of data to demonstrate the critical impact of education. For example, US research into scholarship programmes concludes that “educational attainment—including graduation from high school and enrollment and persistence in college—may be the most consequential outcome for individual students and their surrounding communities over the long term. Students with higher levels of attainment live longer, lead healthier lives, earn more income, and avoid welfare and the criminal justice system at higher rates than their peers with lower levels of attainment”. 

In America it has become the norm to donate to schools and universities, making education the second biggest recipient of voluntary giving after religious causes. Here in Australia it features much lower in the rankings but giving to the sector is growing, as it is in New Zealand and the UK. Benchmarking data for schools is still not available here, but there are strong indications that the patterns match those in the UK, where boys schools receive a disproportionate share of donations. Whilst we should celebrate this additional funding for education, the uneven distribution brings a problem of its own – a widening of inequality between the resources available to boys versus girls.  Reflecting their longer traditions of securing philanthropic support, the provision provided to boys at some schools far outstrips the funding available to girls. This may be understandable for historic reasons, but the resulting inequality of access to an outstanding education is something we would all wish to tackle.

Queenwood families have demonstrated their interested in supporting young women, as evidenced by the substantial support our community has provided to the young Indigenous mothers at Macleay Vocational College over many years, but we also want to extend opportunities to young women of merit who can make the most of what we have to offer here at our own school. Therefore, as we approach the end of the financial year, Queenwood will be inviting the school community to play a part in rolling back inequality, by helping us offer means-tested scholarships to deserving girls from disadvantaged circumstances. Success will bring life-changing opportunities to the recipients. The diversity the scholars bring will enrich the learning of all Queenwood students. And by increasing educational opportunities for girls, we contribute to a more equal society.

To make a tax-deductible donation to support disadvantaged girls, please select ‘Means-tested Scholarship Fund’ on the online donation form or contact Paul Dennett.