Educating Girls

16 March 2023

Reflecting on International Women's Day

Reflecting on International Women's Day

'"I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will" (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre). This quote may be over 150 years old, but it still rings true today. All around the world, right now at this very second, women are being abused or having their rights taken away, despite the fact that many believe that gender equality has been achieved. However, there is an ever-growing movement trying to change this. My name is Mia and I am a feminist.' - Mia Andrewes, Year 5 in 2016.

This was the introduction of a speech delivered seven years ago by Mia. It was a topic of her own choosing for a public speaking event, a topic about which she felt passionate and committed, and a speech she shared at the Ruyton International Women’s Day (IWD) breakfast that year. That passion has not diminished. This year, Mia and her Year 12 peers led both the Senior School IWD Assembly and the Ruyton IWD Breakfast. These young women spoke with the same concern, passion and courage as Mia did seven years ago; determined to live in a more equal and equitable world, determined to make a difference for others, and determined to lead by example.

Last Wednesday the Australian Government released its Status for Women report card to coincide with International Women’s Day. The report card shows the challenges women and girls in Australia face through youth and young adulthood, in careers and working life, through parenthood and families, and in later life. It looks at education, economic outcomes, health, safety and wellbeing, housing and gender norms. Australia has made great progress towards gender equality, however, there is also evidence that in several areas progress is slowing or stalled. 

As our Year 12 leaders reminded us, IWD highlights the incredible actions women have taken to ensure our position today and also how much work there is to do. Currently Australia is ranked 43rd of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum global gender gap index. The gender pay gap starts immediately after graduation, with women earning less than men. More than half (51%) of Australian women experience sexual violence in their 20s. A mother experiences a 55% drop in earnings in the five years following childbirth, while a father’s income remains unchanged. 

Sam Mostyn AO, businesswoman, climate change and gender equity advocate highlighted that there are no quick fixes for equality, it requires careful planning and decades of focused work. As she notes, its 'not an equation whereby if women gain, men somehow lose.' Rather, identifying and addressing opportunities to achieve gender equality ensures we all gain potential and opportunity. We can’t meet the challenges ahead without unlocking the true potential of women. As the Status for Women report card notes, 'gender inequality is not only holding women back, but is a brake on our progress as a country.'

At Ruyton we know that there is something inherent in the girls’ school environment that ignites in our young women the inspiration and confidence to lead self and others; the motivation to live a life of impact and purpose; and the courage and grit to be the change-makers our world needs. But they can’t do it by themselves. We are a community that believes in girls, and it is this support that enables them to step into their own power and achieve their full potential. Our girls and young women know the importance of supporting those who follow in their footsteps. 

Linda Douglas

Ruyton Girls’ School

March 2023