In recognition of International Women's Day on Thursday, Head of Senior School, Margaret van Meeuwen reflects on what this day represents for our Dio girls.
Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a day of celebration across the globe of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day itself has been observed since the early 1900s when women pushed for the right to vote, better pay and equality with men. A century later, many women probably feel the fight has been won and the relevance and indeed the observance of a day celebrating the success of women is a little irrelevant. On the surface this is largely true – women are represented in significant numbers, albeit not equal to men, in all aspects of society. In some professions that were once the domain of men, it is unremarkable that women participate and lead. Particularly here in New Zealand where women can be Prime Minister, Chief Justice, or CEO, young women potentially don’t notice or question the futures for which they can aim. But has the fight been won? If you scratch the surface is there an underbelly where women are expected to suffer in silence at the hands of bigotry and oppression?
While the changes to society over the past 100 odd years have been obvious in the ability of women to be whatever they want to be, recent events have uncovered a depressing reality where women have been expected to put up with innuendo, assault and worse in the workplace in order to enhance their chances of progression in their chosen industry. The #metoo and Time’s up movements have highlighted the years of abuse at the hands of male Hollywood film makers and given women a voice to express their pain, to seek solidarity with other women, expose the perpetrators and seek legal restitution. Closer to home recent allegations about practices in law schools and offices which are demeaning to women, show that the culture at the heart of these organisations will require a paradigm shift in order to be anywhere near what is expected publicly. The saddest part about all these revelations to me is that young women say that they felt reluctant to challenge the activities, and pressured to participate in jelly wrestling, nudity, excessive alcohol consumption and sexual activities – and this from some of our best and brightest graduates. Descriptions of “entitled men in the legal profession believing young female interns are a smorgasbord for them to feast upon” makes you question whether women have made any progress at all over the last century.
So what is a Dio girl to do? There is no doubt that a young woman who finds herself vulnerable in the work place or University because of a power imbalance will find it hard to assert her rights. Alice Mander at the Leavers’ Dinner of 2017 gave the following advice to her peers: “We live in a world that is still dominated by men, yet we are lucky enough to be educated in an environment in which our voice and our opinion is never second choice. In fact, we expect our voice to be heard. And I think that’s great, we’re a group of intelligent young woman who won’t let ourselves be silenced. I truly believe that Dio has given us this desire to achieve, to be seen and to be heard. And if I can urge you all to remember one thing from our time here it would be just that;
We have a voice.”
Happy International Women’s Day – take time to reflect not only on the progress made, but also the work left to do. Don’t take for granted that voice and use it for effect. And know that if you lived in Madagascar you would have an official public holiday – for women only!
- Margaret van Meeuwen Head of Senior School.