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Kol Isha: Women’s Voices

Why teaching about female role models is essential for all our children

This week celebrates and commemorates 100 years since the law changed to give women in Britain the right to vote, the second country in the world to do, achieved through the work of the women’s suffrage movement.

Over the past year, we have begun to appreciate the impact on children in our school of some of the problematic views of women from wider society, something we judged would have a negative impact on them as they grow up. In order to address this, we launched an initiative in the autumn term to promote female role models in our school, helping children and adults to learn more about female scientists, leaders, artists, mathematicians, firefighters, engineers, sports players, inventors, explorers, doctors and others who have had a positive impact on the modern world. Most of us, parents and teachers, as well as our children, could identify many famous men in these fields but collectively we know far less about the successes, achievements and benefits women have brought to the world. Women such as marine biologist and “aquanaut” Sylvia Earle, mathematician and computer programmer Ada Lovelace, or space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. thThe truth is that both in the past and in our own time, the endeavours and successes of women have been overlooked. This is something that does a disservice to both females and males or every age. In our discussions with staff at school, we have also explored the effect that ignorance about successful, powerful and creative women has on children. It means in many ways they grow up thinking that because they don’t know about women who can and do, they often assume that women can’t and don’t. It was in order to address this, that we launched our female role models initiative, so that all our children, girls and boys, would grow up knowing that both women and men can and do.

Back in the summer and autumn, when we started to work on female role models in our school, we were inspired by our research and reading about incredible women most of us hadn’t heard off, but we were also motivated by the bravery of women speaking out about Hollywood predators and others. The news of the past month, including the issues around pay equality at the BBC and the reported issues of the Presidents club, have only helped to reinforce our determination to address the complexity of gender equality and the issues that this presents in the society our children are growing up in.

At the end of this month, we are proud that we will be welcoming Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt to dedicate our school building. Professor Lipstadt is an outstanding academic as well as an amazing role model for our school in her determination and courage. As part of our preparation for our dedication, we have been learning the Hebrew song Ani v’ata neshaneh et haOlam, ‘you and I will change the world’. It is an optimistic song, which acknowledges that although ‘it’s been said before’, we won’t be defeated as, ‘you and I will change the world’.

By teaching, learning and celebrating women who have changed the world, by meeting those who have stood up for truth and who have stood together to make their voices heard, we hope that our children will be inspired to make their own difference and to work together to improve our world.

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