Spotlight on: Women's Voices

11 March 2022

By Mrs Anni Sandwell

This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 11 March, 2022

When the Year 1 girls sang I Can Be Anything in a recent Assembly and each student went on to share the profession she’d like to pursue in the future, it seemed that nothing could get in the way of their goals; they listed builder, architect, teacher (especially ‘Queenwood teacher’), scientist, lawyer and doctor as some examples. In a girls’ school and in a community where girls come from families where women make significant decisions and effect change (girls are very observant!), it is understandable that the girls are likely to feel confident about their future.

While it is refreshing to hear that our girls are optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the future, it is important to acknowledge there is still much to be done. In an interview with Richard Glover last week, Wendy McCarthy, ‘an influencer before her time’, spoke of her pride in the progress made in the Australian feminist movement over the past 50 years, yet concedes that there’s much more to be done. This is supported by the findings of a recent survey profiled on ABC Radio last week which ranks Australia as 14th in the world for gender equality, a position that has not changed since 2019.

In the real world, sex discrimination and bias still exist and being aware of the challenges ahead is a vital step in preparing the girls to play their part in forging a better future.

What can we as a Community (continue to) do? How can we equip the girls with the skills and tools to embrace the challenges ahead of them?

Through Struggles to the Stars

We should encourage the girls to step out of their comfort zones, to demonstrate courage, to take risks in their learning and to persist with things which are new or are tricky. The Alliance of Girls’ Schools in Australasia supports and promotes the distinctive work of girls’ schools and cites numerous analyses which demonstrate the particular role girls’ schools can play in developing these skills and attitudes. As just one example, girls’ schools are better able to foster a healthy sense of competition – a characteristic that too often is wrongly perceived as incompatible with kindness or treated negatively in girls.

We can inspire the girls with great role models. Year 11 students led an International Women’s Day Assembly for the Year 5 and Year 6 girls on Tuesday, and spoke about the importance of strong female role models, mentioning Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai as examples. Inspiration comes not just from the real world but also from magnificent fictional characters. Some examples for younger readers include The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Edwina the Emu by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement and The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp. Parents can read these too and discuss the themes with their daughters.

The importance of robust discussions at the dinner table cannot be overestimated! It is a training ground for self-advocacy and enables girls to learn to know what to do when they don’t know what to do. This was the theme of the presentation at the Mosman IWD Breakfast by reporter Amber Sherlock who spoke about the need for girls to speak up, to find their voice and to challenge the status quo.

Perhaps the strongest message for International Women’s Day is that this is a collective responsibility. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist, once explained: "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organization, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

Our girls are fortunate indeed to have the family support and access to education they need in order to develop the character, disposition, and skills to flourish in and contribute to the world.