Blackheath High School students #PressforProgress by hosting our Feminism in Schools conference
To celebrate International Women’s Day Blackheath High School’s feminism society joined the #PressforProgress campaign around gender parity by hosting a one-day feminism conference in conjunction with the UCL Institute of Education.
Galvanised by our own feminism teacher, Ms. Retallack, activists, teachers and students alike came together to address issues around gender inequality in schools and focussed on how we can make our schools fairer places for all. Hosted by our incredible students, there were panel discussions and breakout sessions that tackled subjects such as the gendered curriculum, ‘safe spaces’ in school, and sex and relationships education.
Our students welcomed a host of experts on gender equality to give talks. From UCL Professor Jessica Ringrose, (Professor of Sociology of Gender and Education the UCL Institute of Education), Charlotte Carson (Founder of Feminism in Schools Network) representatives from the Great Men Project (who run workshops promoting gender equality with teenage boys in UK secondary schools), TIGER (Teaching Individuals Gender Equality and Respect) to our very own alumna activist Sainabou Hydara who gave a very inspiring speech on feminist activism.
The schools participating included Westminster School, Haberdashers’ Aske’s, City of London School for Boys, City of London School for Girls, Brighton and Hove High School for Girls GDST, and Northampton High GDST and Deptford Green School.
Our girls feel motivated and confident enough to challenge the things we do in school.
I’m sure our panel of eminent speakers won’t mind me saying that the most striking thing about this conference was the quality of the students’ contributions.
I am proud of the fact that our students are encouraged and inspired every day at Blackheath High School. We empower our students; helping them to find their voice and take positive action. We don’t tell our students what the feminist issues are. We feel it is really important that the girls themselves are driving this agenda, and I am proud that our girls feel they can always challenge and contribute the things we do in school. I regularly enjoy lively discussion with girls and their suggestions about issues such as whether trousers should form part of our uniform (they do) or whether our toilets should be gender neutral (not something we have at the moment).
At Blackheath High School students have discussed and campaigned on many issues. In particular girls are interested in inter-sectional feminism: where various aspects of humanity, such as class, race, sexual orientation, disability and gender do not exist separately from each other, but are complexly interwoven. A discussion might touch on a topic such as the importance of hijabs or afro hair within different cultures and how this relates to issues of gender. At the conference, Blackheath High School students were privileged to interact with the adult speakers and guests from an exciting range of schools on the issues that matter to them. It is really important that as schools, we provide the support and space for them to do so. For me, it is incredible to see the reasoned, creative and articulate responses of our young people on such weighty matters, and that our girls feel motivated and confident enough to challenge the things we do in school.
We don’t tell our students what the feminist issues are. We feel it is really important that the girls themselves are driving this agenda.
We invited boys’ schools to the conference because we need to bring boys into the conversation. They are feminists too. They are an important part of change and need to be prepared to take the challenges of gender inequality alongside girls and women. An equal society brings benefits for everyone; an end to gender stereotypes, more equitable partnerships and relationships makes for a better society in every sense.
I am proud that our feminist society was able to bring together a network of schools together to celebrate International Women’s Day, and ensured those schools left the conference with the tools, information, and a network to spearhead the feminism message back in their own schools.