Gender equality is your right and your fight

From the Principal's address at the 2019 opening assembly

From an early age, each and every one of you will have begun to understand certain “rules” about how boys and girls should behave. These messages around gender roles are ingrained in the language we use, the images on TV, in storybooks and in the types of games that we have all played.

Your parents and friends will also have played a huge and formative role in how you understand gender equality.

Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. I am proudly a feminist. The essence of me being a feminist is to promote choice. If a woman chooses to become an engineer, she should be given the same opportunity as a man and receive the same salary. Women deserve the same freedoms that men enjoy in work and life. On the other hand, if a man chooses to be a stay-at-home Dad, this is his right and he should not be judged. The fight for gender equality benefits both men and women. As Emma Watson, the actress, said in her address to the United Nations:

“It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing set of ideals.”

Some of you may have been watching the Australian Open over the past week. Unlike many other sports, the prize money for professional tennis players in both the women’s and men’s grand slam tournaments is the same. Gender equal. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most other sports and professions and I believe unequivocally that it should be.

Discrimination against women is alive and well, and the road to equality between the sexes continues to be a bumpy one. There is a constant stream of stories showing gender disparities both in the work place and home, and it is time that more of us take a definite stand and become a part of the fight to abolish the binary between the genders.

Some men still believe that it is their assumed right to make decisions on behalf of women, therefore devaluing their human rights. It is not the job of women and girls to convince males of the importance of gender equality; men should be responsible for their own attitudes and beliefs about the role of women.

The facts remain:

  • Across Australia, women continue to be significantly under-represented in parliament and executive government, comprising less than one-third of all parliamentarians and one-fifth of all ministers.
  • Women remain significantly underrepresented on boards and at senior management level. There is good news though. In today’s paper there was a report that women now account for 29.7 per cent of the board positions of the largest 200 publicly listed companies. This was only 8.3% in 2010. Australia is the first country to achieve 30% gender diversity in the top 100 board rooms. 45% of new board directors appointed last year were women.
  • Women working full time in Australia earn, on average, 17.5 percent less than men.
  • According to a survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission, 49 percent of Australian women experience discrimination during pregnancy and when returning to work.
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 14.8 percent of women experience sexual harassment at some point in the year, compared to 6.6 percent of men.
  • In July 2018, the leaders of the G20 nations gathered for a group photo as they kicked off their summit meeting in Germany. Of the 36 people in the picture, there were just four women. And currently only 23% of the world’s politicians are women.

These disparities are just a few on the topic of inequality and, as a father and grandfather of females, and your Principal, it makes me angry because they are not logical.

There is a Chinese saying that, women hold up half the sky, acknowledging the importance of women in the growth of society. We need all men and women to recognise this and to advocate for equality. We need to open the conversation without fear of retribution because oppression for one is oppression for all. A society cannot operate to its full potential when half of its members do not have an equal voice.

One of my heroes is Emma Watson. In a recent address to the United Nations, amongst many things, she said:

I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was eight, I was confused at being called bossy because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents. But the boys were not. When at fifteen, my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. I decided that I was a feminist.

I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and the decisions that affect my life. But sadly, I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights. These rights I consider to be human rights, but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege, because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl, my mentors didn’t assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influences were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are changing the world today. We need more of those.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer. It’s all about freedom.

Seymour College is driven by our vision to nurture and develop women of strength, optimism and justice, confident for the future. We want ALL girls to develop their strengths in learning and wellbeing – and focus on the development of character, integrity and perseverance, and we foster excellence. We believe that a sense of optimism is vital – that if we are to enable gender equality you must be resilient and have a strong sense of self-efficacy and self-belief. Our motto of Crescam Ministrando – I grow by serving – guides you in being respectful of others and making a commitment to justice in order to contribute to an equitable world.

Our core values, what we have a strong belief in, include excellence – we work together to give every one of you the opportunity to fulfil your potential; respect – we respect ourselves and the rights of others; and innovation – we encourage initiative and creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.

Last year I urged you to commit to a formula for excellence: e = k+d+c.

And you did that in every way – in the classroom, on the sports field, in Cambodia, whilst trekking in the Flinders Ranges and in your relationships with each other. We agreed that Excellence is best achieved through an attitude of kindness, diligence and courage. Excellence means being the best to what you do at school. Every one of you can achieve excellence by giving of your best and working hard.

At Seymour College we all, students and staff, undertake a journey to excellence, through being kind, being diligent and showing courage.

Kindness is about being friendly, cooperative, generous and considerate. It’s about your attitude, sense of goodwill, warmth, gentleness, concern, care and compassion and your commitment to our motto, Crescam Ministrando – I grow by serving.

Diligence is your approach to learning – being careful and persistent, making an effort and being conscientious. It’s also about rigour, being thorough, earnest, attentive and studious.

And thirdly, Courage – our vision is to develop and nurture women of strength, and that takes courage - it’s about how you tackle difficulties, show conviction and be brave in the face of those things that you might fear.

So – we expect you all to aspire to personal excellence – through kindness, diligence and courage. We will support you along the way.

In 2019, we want you to take this a little further. Visualise that the equal sign stands for gender equality – and that this is your right and your fight, and that like excellence, this is best achieved through kindness, diligence and courage.

e = k+d+c with an additional element of equality.

ek+d+c A3 2019 posters

Gender equality is important for everyone, not just women. It is about everyone. It is a mindset of acceptance and inclusion and it is a human right. It is about best thinking for our women and men – and, as we are seeing across the world, it is time to understand and act on it.

Have a great year. Strive for excellence. Stand up for equality. Be as kind as you ever can, Work hard and take some brave steps forward.

Kevin Tutt