Opinion: Empowering women through education

Opinion: Empowering women through education

At this time of year, we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and recognise the social, political and economic achievements of women throughout the world. With the International theme for 2019 of ‘Balance for Better’ and the Australian theme ‘More Powerful Together’ reminding us that when we better the gender balance so too, do we better the world. This week is a time for celebrating and recognising the exceptional contribution women make in their communities. Equally, at this time it is also important for us to consider areas requiring further action, especially female representation in government, as Directors on Boards and in Executive Management in Australia.

There are some basic assumptions about the importance of the education of women that are well backed by research, including the higher educated one is the greater their earning capacity; if the mother of the family is educated then it is more likely that education will be valued in the home and that the children will be educated. In third world countries a higher percentage of the mother’s wage goes to her children than the wage earned by the father in the family. It is also widely recognised that educating women has the capacity to unshackle families from poverty and break the cycle.

We are reminded by the youngest recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, of how precious education is — Malala was prepared to die for the right for an education. We know Malala as the Pakistan school girl who was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home from school on a bus on October 9, 2012. Taliban militants targeted Malala in retaliation over her campaign for girls to be given equal rights to schooling in a country where only 40 percent of adult women can read and write. Today Malala continues her fight and is a role model of courage. However, millions of girls around the world are being denied their right to go to school and realise their potential. This is especially true in over 70 countries around the world impacted upon by war or natural disaster.

In Australia we are privileged to have the opportunity of education. Historically, Melbourne Girls Grammar has worked hard to actively promote leadership potential, so that it is possible for women to be more fairly represented. Our alumnae have always been trail blazers and from our earliest graduates there has been a diversity of talent. Essentially, it is this deep pervasive culture of sisterhood that empowers our women whilst at school and beyond.

At Melbourne Girls Grammar we will be celebrating IWD in many different ways, throughout the whole School. On Monday 4 March I was fortunate to accompany a group of very impressive senior students to the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia (AGSA) IWD Breakfast at Queens Hall, Parliament House. The guest speaker, Ms Catherine O’Sullivan, CEO, RMIT Training was inspiring and encouraged us to be more powerful together, recognising the important role we all play. She urged us to work in collaboration and across that which sometimes divides us, breaking down perceptions of gender to create a world where women and girls everywhere have equal rights and equal opportunities. Our School Captain, Lexi graciously thanked Ms O’Sullivan for her address and presented her with flowers on behalf of AGSA.

As Principal, I want our community to think about what we can do to empower our youth and especially our young women. We need to be aware of gender but also of the imprecision of pervading stereotypes. Above all, we need to attentively avoid prejudging any boy or girl. We need to think about the words and actions we use and hold each other to account – we need to have balance. We need to encourage advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way. This year’s theme asks of us to challenge the position for women’s equality and to be responsive in bringing about positive change. We all have a part to play. This is not a competition between male and female. The planet needs us to walk together. The empowering of women through education is a collective responsibility.

Dr Toni Meath is the principal of Melbourne Girls Grammar School