Headmistress’s Blog: Women Changing the World

29 January 2021

We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored. Sheryl Sandberg

Today a politics conference for women by women was held virtually, organised by 11 of our Year 13 pupils. 25 different schools attended from the GDST as well as 7 local schools, all of whom tuned in to hear the voices of women talk about their time in the spotlight. Women in public life from across the political spectrum kindly dedicated their time so that our pupils could hear about their experiences and their journeys. This process of women sharing their challenges and their successes is crucial to female success in the outside world, as demonstrated by research.

Let’s consider a study carried out by Toronto Professor Penelope Lockwood, in which he asked women and men to name their role models. Nearly 80% of each named a role model of the same gender. However, whereas the men stated that gender was irrelevant, almost 30% of women stated that gender was an important factor in their choice. Lockwood concludes that “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable”. (Lockwood,P.(2006))

This is absolutely at the heart of Oxford High; the ambition, agency and efficacy that the students show is astonishing. The 11 students involved in the organisation of this conference wrote to over 30 female role models across the world ranging from Jacinda Ardern to Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama to the former Premier of Australia and the Prime Minister of Barbados. That ambition, the belief that the world is out there for the taking is unique to OHS and generation after generation of our students see the years above take on the world, and are empowered to do the same. They have not just a few role models but hundreds from within OHS itself and thousands via the network of the GDST.

It may have been amplified by the Political Conference today, but even to a Headmistress of 4 weeks (!) the examples are manifold: the two pupils who supported the Year 11 day off timetable after working through their assessments; the prefects who helped Dr Strobel organise the wide-ranging excellent Careers Conference last week and the pupils who put on the Economics Conference last term. All these examples, and there are so many more enabled by our dedicated staff, are real opportunities for your daughters to not only meet their role models but to ask the difficult questions about a woman’s role in the real world, about moving past objectification, criticism and abuse to standing up for what you believe in. That journey of finding every pupil’s individual authentic voice shines out from our school, whether through a pupil telling me yesterday about the role of the car industry in Hitler’s rise to power or the Year 13 students introducing their speakers to over 500 pupils from 25 different schools. These opportunities, played out at OHS, are the ultimate preparation for the world ahead for these brilliant, sparky young people. They demonstrate, to my mind, exactly what a good education provides: namely the understanding of self and the confidence to stand up and speak out.

Thank you to all of the speakers who joined us today: Anneliese Dodds, Oxford East MP and the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer; Layla Moran, the Oxford West and Abingdon MP and Liberal Democrat Spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Development; Victoria Prentis, MP for Banbury and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Farming, Fisheries and Food; Fleur Butler, the Chairman of the Conservative’s Women’s Organisation, and Baroness Scotland the sixth Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations.

I am so grateful to these five exceptional women for taking the time to come to our conference and pass on their wisdom to all the young people attending across the GDST.

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” Madeline Albright

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