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Why young people need to speak out

Gemma Gibson Headmistress of Bedford Girls’ School, writes on the importance of having a strong voice.

All of us have read with horror the news about the killing of Sarah Everard and what it exemplifies about the treatment of women in our society. Concurrently, the alarming stories about peer-on-peer abuse and misogyny in schools continues to make headlines. As a school that encourages young women to have a strong voice, I have been impressed that so many young people have spoken out about the issues that are affecting their daily lives; we know this takes great courage.

Without those brave enough to step forward the issues will remain. We need to ensure young people in our schools not only have the strategies to protect themselves, but that they have the confidence to speak to a trusted adult, either at home or at school, if any of these issues are affecting them.

We are fully cognisant that unfortunately at times all young people may have to confront danger. It is up to us as educators, in conjunction with parents, to not only help protect them, but also instil in them guiding principles around how we should behave towards one another. Growing up is a learning curve and no matter how well we guide them, they will inevitably have errors of judgment. It is important that we call out when they fall below these standards whilst also ensuring that we help them to move forward from their mistakes. We must however ensure there is equality in what we deem to be appropriate behaviour; for too long society has allowed different standards to apply, and as the shocking testimonies have demonstrated, this has enabled a culture of sexism to continue for too long.

I want to see our alumnae continue to achieve successes in their chosen professional lives, free from gender stereotypes and able to take on any challenges that come their way. I want them to always feel safe and secure in their day-to-day lives; this should be a right, not a privilege.

I fervently hope that the world our students go out into will be fairer, kinder and safer.

Just over 100 years ago, Nancy Astor, the first female MP, said in her maiden speech: “I do not want you to look on your lady member as a fanatic or a lunatic. I am simply trying to speak for hundreds of women and children throughout the country who cannot speak for themselves.” Her words still resonate today and are echoed by the number of female MPs who have spoken about the current issues facing women. Jess Phillips MP, recently said, before reading out the names of the 120 women who have been murdered by men in the past 12 months; “In this place, we count what we care about. We count the vaccines…We love to count data of our own popularity…. However, we don’t currently count dead women…Dead women is a thing we’ve all just accepted as part of our daily lives. Dead women is just one of those things.” Powerful words indeed.

I urge our young people to speak out if they see injustice; to come forward when they need support; to strive to take on roles across society where they can make a difference; and most importantly, to always support one another as we are, without doubt, stronger together.


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