Edmund Rice Education Australia Touchstone
A Catholic school in the Edmund Rice tradition our community is accepting and welcoming, fostering right relationships and committed to the common good.
International Women’s Day
St Edward’s College holds at the very heart of its foundation a commitment to the promotion of respectful and inclusive relationships. We are in a unique position as an all-boys school to foster in our young men a deep understanding of the role that they play in working alongside the women in their life in becoming part of the solution to the inequities that exist in society today. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day on Monday March 8 was “Choose to Challenge”. This theme challenges us to call out gender bias and inequality when we see it and to celebrate the wonderful achievements of women in our lives.
On Friday March 5, the Prefects lead an assembly item which called on all members of our community to join together and pledge our commitment to work towards breaking down gender inequality. We continue to promote the idea that both men and women must be active and equal partners, developing a common and clear understanding on topics such as sexism, consent, domestic violence and gender bias, ensuring that gender equality initiatives involve men and women in advocating and being strong role models and change agents.
As a community of staff, we gathered on International Women’s Day to establish our commitment to working with our boys in this endeavour. At this gathering, Ms Jessica Beagin, a Visual Arts Teacher at St Edward’s, gave a powerful speech to staff providing wonderful insights into her thinking on this important issue. I thank Jessica for allowing me to share her speech with the College community. I urge all parents and carers to take time to read this speech and discuss with your son(s) the important messages it contains. Your role in guiding and supporting your son in developing his own values, understanding and beliefs on this important topic is critical.
Ms Jessica Beagin
When asked to speak about International Women’s Day, I became suddenly overwhelmed. There is so much to discuss, so much history and so many directions I could take.
Let me firstly say, being a woman in 2021 is incredible. We have more opportunities than ever; we have a voice and our skills and opinions are being recognised. I am surrounded by so many strong, driven and capable women who inspire me every day with their tenacity.
But being a woman does come with its own set of challenges. Gender equality has come a significantly long way but there is still a way to go.
As educators, we should understand this more than most, but knowledge and understanding is power. Often people, and I’m going to say in particular our boys, don’t understand the scope of gender inequality. It is not just a conversation of pay gaps and job opportunities, but it is ingrained in the fabric of our lives. The way we speak to and about women, how we engage women in decision making, divide jobs and roles at home, school and in the workplace, make comments about women’s appearance or ability to complete certain tasks. These are all examples of gender inequality.
The theme of International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge. I think this is a really powerful statement that can lend itself to so many scenarios. The idea that a challenged world is an alert world, and as individuals we are all responsible for our thoughts and actions. We are all responsible for challenging and calling out gender inequalities.
I read an article very recently that involved men sharing the moment they realized that they had been inappropriate towards women at some point in their life and then changed their ways. It started off saying that it was easy to point the finger at male-dominated media or strangers who cat-call in the street. But the reality is that these perpetrators are often men we know. Often, they don’t realize the impact of their behaviour or even notice that they are doing it at all.
One man said that “Hearing women he is friends with complain about something and thinking, “Far out, I’ve done that”. He explained that it really helped him improve on a lot of things.
This shows that by educating men and boys on what constitutes sexual harassment and what constitutes gender inequality can aid in reducing it and move towards more respectful relationships and interactions with women.
When women feel safe, supported, heard and equal, everyone benefits. We as men and women have so much to learn from each other. By listening and learning from each other we can nurture a culture of respect and appreciation for both genders.
- promotes positive and meaningful friendships and relationships,
- it expands the often narrow ideas of gender roles and behaviours,
- it encourages men to be emotional and empathetic, to be present and involved in the lives of people around them.
While men are part of the problem, they are also a very crucial part of the solution. So I ask all of you to Choose to Challenge negative behaviours towards women.
- Challenge the derogatory and off-hand comments.
- Challenge the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality.
- Challenge gender stereotypes and roles.
And not just because we are someone’s wife or daughter or mother, but for social justice…because we are just people, who deserve respect, who deserve to be treated equally, who deserve to feel safe and have our voice heard.
Thank you to all of the men who do this already, who are cheerleaders for the women in their life. We see you! And there is so much to cheer about! Every day women are kicking goals and achieving amazing things, all while raising children and caring for the men in our lives.
Happy International Women’s Day to every woman in this room. You are so incredibly valuable to so many people in your life. Thank you for all the little things you do that often go unnoticed. Thank you for pushing yourself to be whoever you want to be. Thank you for being a positive role model to every boy and man that walks this school.
If we want change, then we have to be the change. Ask the women around you what gender equality means to them or about a time where they’ve felt uncomfortable, unsafe or unheard. Model equal, fair and respectful behaviour. Choose to Challenge inequality and remember that knowledge is power. We have to understand gender equality to mend it, and we all play a vital part in mending it.