Celebrating International Women’s Day in Education

Since 1911, International Women’s Day has represented a celebration of women’s achievements across social, economic, cultural, scientific and political fields – whilst drawing attention to the importance and progress of gender equality.

In its infancy it was supported by over one million people, but today it’s a global phenomenon that’s commemorated by numerous different groups. Each year we’re encouraged to think about International Women’s Day (IWD) in a different way, with an overarching theme to consider.

This year, the theme is ‘Each for Equal’.

Why Is International Women’s Day Important for Schools?

Going to school is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life, their experiences, environment and relationships here forming the foundations for their actions and beliefs in the future.

Women have had a long history fighting gender bias in the Education sector, but with organisations like the GSA championing the future of girls’ learning and big strides being made in reducing the gender gap in education around the world, it’s clear that despite the challenges that remain, progress is being made.

In the spirit of this, we’re commemorating International Women’s Day this year by exploring what schools can do to support ‘Each for Equal’ in the modern school environment.

How Can Schools Support A Gender Equal Future?

For a school to be considered gender equal, they must provide their male and female students with the same opportunities, regardless of their gender. This includes your school’s offering of extra-curricular activities, academic prospects or awarding accolades to celebrate your students’ successes; male and female students must all be considered without the influence of gender bias and/or stereotypes.

Debra Willacey, Assistant Head of High School at Al-Mizhar American Academy, a prominent Girls’ School based in Dubai, explains that supporting gender equality begins with empowering the students themselves.

“Our students are given a voice and strategies to self-advocate; we facilitate teamwork and encourage one another to succeed. In programs like the Model United Nations, we see our girls use these strategies to be confident amongst and chair committees heavily populated with their male peers. They do so with pride and strength, unapologetic about their gender and free to share their ideas for or against their counterparts.”

By engaging your students in mock activities like the Model United Nations at Al-Mizhar, you can ground their beliefs and approaches with real world examples, helping prepare them for challenges and situations that may arise in later life.

Some schools also believe that gender equality must be proactively advocated and demonstrated by their staff members, who set an example for their students to follow – but they can’t do this alone. Effectively training your staff members, particularly those who interact with students frequently, can make all the difference in supporting staff members to breakdown gender stereotypes and subtly promote equality.

From using the right language (e.g. avoiding confirmation of gender norms and traits) to choosing the right textbooks and assigning commendations and detentions, it can be a minefield out there – so you need to ensure your staff have the tools they need to effectively navigate it.

How Do Schools Celebrate Their Girls’ Achievements?

Another positive way of promoting gender equality, and something that most schools do already, is celebrating your students’ successes. And how you choose to do this can make a huge impact. From smaller class awards to an annual whole-school celebration, there are a host of ways that schools around the world choose to showcase the accomplishments of their students.

Assemblies are hugely popular as a time to commemorate the achievements of individual students in person, in front of their peers and teachers. In the digital age, it’s also becoming increasingly popular to use forums such as email newsletters or the school intranet to highlight any awards your sports teams, clubs and/or students and teachers may have won, as well as any other key moments of success your students can share in.

However, your students’ lives extend beyond the school walls and in the outside world they are representatives of your school community. It’s therefore important to recognise their successes externally too, as Debra Willacey highlights:

The achievements of our girls are celebrated internally and externally. From showcasing their accomplishments on social media to recognizing them at assemblies and in class, our girls know that we are always ready to support them through the process leading to their success and share in their triumph as they model for the girls following in their footsteps.

By supporting students in this early stage of their lives to acknowledge significant movements like ‘Each for Equal’, schools are helping empower them to make more informed decisions and actions in their futures. In doing so, we’re each playing our part to collectively work towards a better future.