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Balance for Better

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, the South Hampstead community has been reflecting on how to help build a more gender-balanced world.

The Sixth Form-led Feminist Society kicked off the day with feminist anthems blasting out from the atrium this morning.  They also encouraged staff and fellow pupils to outline their plans to ‘balance for better’, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day; see some of their pledges, above, to help create a more gender-balanced world.

Empowerment is very much engrained in the fabric of South Hampstead. As part of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), South Hampstead has long been at the forefront of campaigns promoting equality. When we first opened our doors in 1876, one of the school’s first pupils wrote of her mother’s: “profound conviction that all feminist problems could be solved by education.” Miss Mary Benton, who served as South Hampstead’s second Headmistress, from 1886 to 1918, was a fierce campaigner for women’s education –  a loyal suffragist who was sympathetic to the suffragette actions of her staff, including one colleague who even spent time in Holloway prison.

Girls are encouraged to speak up and speak out from the early years here; there are no ‘girl’ subjects or ‘boy’ subjects. Mathematics is the most popular A level subject choice, followed by History. Leavers go on to study the Sciences and Humanities in a broadly even split.  We have numerous prestigious Arkwright Engineering Scholars, great results in national Science Olympiads and host the GDST Techathon, exploring the issue of female under-representation in the IT industry.

Pupils here play competitive football and cricket and get muddy cross-country running on Hampstead Heath. Girls run their own Marvel appreciation club, have set up a Space Society, compete in robotics competitions… they also choreograph tremendous dance shows, learn new skills at lunchtime fashion school and produce incredible show-stoppers for the highly competitive House Bake-Off. There are no factory settings here, as our trailblazing alumnae testify. Girls here go on to pursue diverse careers – from feminist authors, such as Fay Weldon and Naomi Alderman, to pioneering scientists such as Dr Jess Wade of Imperial College, who champions underrepresented groups in science by writing prolific Wikipedia entries.

International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come, but also to reflect upon what still needs to be done. As a school, we have a proud feminist history but we also continue to empower our girls to go on to play their part in promoting equality – to build a truly gender-balanced future.

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