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Celebrating 10 years of the International Day of the Girl

Celebrating 10 years of the International Day of the Girl

11 October 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl (IDG) – a global initiative, led by Unicef, which we mark without fail, every year at St Mary’s.

Worldwide, over the past decade this international awareness day has helped amplify the issues that matter most to girls – bringing them to the attention of governments, policymakers and amongst the general public. As a result, more girls have been given opportunities to have their voices heard across a global platform. Much has been achieved – but it is still not enough and more work is required.

History has shown, time again, that if girls are given the right skills and opportunities, they become the ‘changemakers’ we need for a better world. Yet, it remains a sad fact that many girls around the globe continue to face unprecedented challenges and obstacles day after day. From restricted access to education and physical and mental wellness services, to the gender pay gap, there are still too many hurdles limiting what girls can achieve.

Our school’s foundress, Mary Ward, was centuries ahead of her time with her vision of what women were capable of and her steely determination to fight for female emancipation and empowerment. In the 17th Century, she stated boldly: ‘By God’s grace, women in time to come will do much’. A champion for girls’ education, Mary went on to set up successful girls’ schools throughout continental Europe, where women with religious vocations were able to teach as opposed to being enclosed in, often silent, contemplative orders. Mary’s notion of an unenclosed order for women, including a teaching vocation, was deemed far too radical by the Catholic Church of the time and, consequently, Mary was imprisoned and excommunicated from the church to which she was devoted. Despite countless attempts to suppress her vision and work, 400 years on there are almost 200 Mary Ward schools around the world, from the UK to India, Spain to Zimbabwe; a living legacy that is testament to her foresight and determination and has helped ensure the best start for thousands of girls worldwide.

Today, in an age where women’s voices remain under-represented, frequently ignored, and often derided or suppressed, Mary Ward’s vision remains as important as ever. As a girls’ school we are mindful of injustices towards women and girls, and the neglect and exploitation of those without voice. Armed with the knowledge that many girls don’t get to speak or advocate for themselves, we ensure all girls at St Mary’s get to learn the art of public speaking. This year, our school is placing extra emphasis on oracy skills – an area that we know has been affected nationwide over the last two years by the pandemic.

At St Mary’s we have always encouraged our girls to speak out on topics of importance to them – teaching them to communicate confidently, clearly, creatively, and with compassion. Last year our girls produced creative writing and artwork on issues important to them, which were successful in national competitions.  Offering our students the chance to practice their speaking and listening skills within a supportive environment is central to our work and ultimately helps our students develop as young women of conscience, who will go on and make a difference in the world.

Our recent international alumnae, Bonnie Au, is a fantastic of example of one of our students going on to use her voice to advocate for change. Bonnie is now a multimedia journalist, who combines her interest in multimedia and the environment in her work. Since completing her Masters degree, she has had the opportunity to work on four full-length documentaries - three of which are environmental films. She has produced and hosted several podcast series, which saw her delve into various pressing environmental topics. She has also filmed and edited her own videos on environmental, social, and political topics.

As we look beyond this year’s International Day of the Girl, and all it represents, we are looking at introducing some sessions on peace-studies into our Year 8 curriculum. This will be a proactive way of getting students to think about the notion of peace and what they can do as the next generation of decision makers. 

We are also establishing an experimental collaboration for some of our Sixth Form students to interact (via Zoom) with young female students at the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University in Pindi, Pakistan. Through this initiative, we will be putting on six weekly peace studies sessions. We will be selecting a few Sixth Form students as Peace Ambassadors in this initial trial, who will learn theory, practice and stories from different cultures, races, and faiths. Towards the end of the sessions, students will work collaboratively to present suggestions of how to make the world a more peaceful place through concrete projects. Through this course, students will learn about peace building tools that they can carry on enacting for the rest of their lives.

The International Day of the Girl reminds us that, every day, girls continue to break down boundaries and barriers posed to them by stereotypes and exclusion. Let’s ensure that St Mary’s girls are among them. We can do this by helping them amplify their voices and understand the world around them, so they become the changemakers of tomorrow, which we know they can be.

Learn more about International Day of the Girl.