International Women's Day

Featured

International Women's Day

Friday the 8th of March, 2019

In celebration of International Women's Day today, our Principal Heather McRae reflects on what this means for women today.

They say you never appreciate your mother until you don't have one. And like many things my mother said, she was right.

When she passed away, it struck me how much our experiences as women blow fuel on the coals of discontent when we are consigned to expectations and a life not always of our choosing.

A highly intelligent mind, creative and active, she was denied by war an education that would have put that mind to great purpose. And while I am thankful for her commitment to family and being the very best farmer's wife she could be, she realised her potential had never been tapped.

While we thought she was somewhat stroppy, it was her personal protest expressed as strongly feminist views and an unerring determination that all of us would be educated. Before too long that magnificent intellect was lost to Alzheimers so International Women's Day is an opportunity to think about the past and present of women's lives, not just in our families but in the world beyond.

We all have journeys in our lives that determine our values, our beliefs and that which we fight for. My mother's life taught us important life lessons about how an education opens opportunities for a fulfilled life.

We should honour the messages passed on to us over time and recognise that many women in the world continue to experience war and disruption that change their lives and take away not just opportunities but entire ways of life.

There are 603 million women who live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime and where access to education is not possible. In these countries, women are the first to be exploited, and the last to receive food, education or medical care.

In our own country women have these things. But sometimes these gifts are not enough for every woman to reach her potential. These benefits do not replace the need for self-actualisation – the feeling that eluded my mother.

We all deserve the right to personal fulfilment and the right for our intellectual capacity, empathy and effort to make an impact that is rewarding and truly meaningful. But such are the structures and history of our world, there remain undeniable hindrances to women that are attributed to many things, mostly lightweight or oversimplified, such as women just not applying for leadership positions.

Objectification of women has always been an underlying and persistent hindrance. It undermines recognition of intellectual capacity resulting in self-doubt and cautious contributions. This issue has been exacerbated by the internet, where expectations of body shape, how you look and who you should be following, trap our young women in cycles of dissatisfaction.

Trolling, fake friends and graphic pornography present our new generation of young women with experiences that undermine their standing in society and reduce the likelihood of forming quality relationships.

What some of our young men expect of young women is formed by their engagement with pornography online that is freely available. It has left young women at times feeling vulnerable and pressured to be complicit.

These are the new challenges, the same but different in many ways to the history of gender equality, but the outcome is the same. Women lose ground whenever there are radical and disruptive shifts in society.

What we can do about this, is the lesson my mother left. Never forget that you have to fight for change, albeit if you cannot achieve that yourself. Never forget the changes that previous generations fought for, and never be satisfied with anything that limits your ability, pride or self-confidence.

As Beyonce says, "We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible."

Make decisions as a woman that lead to your own self-actualisation. Whatever that looks like for you, in our society it will be possible to live to your potential.

Your example and the example of us all will continue to make that difference, that is a legacy for our future generations. Let's reflect on that and challenge ourselves to do whatever we can to help those other women in the world toward their best. So, thanks Mum on International Women's Day, for the lessons of your generation.

• Heather McRae is Principal of Diocesan School for Girls.