Monday, 14 March 2016

#HeForShe in our school (2016 Term 1 Week 8)

An enduring fancy for many school principals is that our assembly speeches are moments of exhilarating transformative power that will shape the hearts and minds of generations; this fancy tends to be a triumph of self-delusion over experience. I don't know that there are any people anywhere in the world who count a school assembly as being among the great turning points of their life. Most of the time my addresses tend to have all the impact of a pebble tossed into the ocean; it is rare for feedback of any kind to come my way. However, following my address at the Senior School assembly last week there has been substantially more traction amongst students and staff than would normally be the case. 

I spoke with the students about the HeForShe campaign for gender equality and applied it, with the use of some online videos, to our context at Inaburra. Given the importance of the topic, and the resonance that it appears to have had with many members of our Senior School, I think that it is worthwhile bringing to the wider school community who were not in that assembly. 

The rest of this post outlines the general shape of my address, including the videos that I used. For those who have the time and interest (which, given that it runs for some 20 minutes, I don't expect to be many), this first link is to a basic video of the assembly speech in its entirety

Today I want to speak to you about a movement started by UN Women called HeForShe. HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity for the benefit of all. Gender equality is something that matters deeply. The responsibility for ensuring justice and respect for all people rests with all people. Men ought to stand alongside women in calling for, acting for and ensuring gender equality.

For me, this conviction stands on and grows out of the first chapter of the Bible, where we read that God created men and women alike in his image. As a Christian man I have no grounds for viewing women as anything other than inherently worthy of dignity and respect. I am happy to identify myself as a feminist, if we understand a feminist as a person who agitates for and stands up for equality between men and women. I think that this position is entirely compatible with the Bible.

There are three things I want to speak with you about today wherein I have concerns, not just for us here at Inaburra School, but for the wider society in which we live and the wider world that you will create in the years to come.

The first has to do with domestic violence. My point, along with calling our young men to stand up, speak out and act to prevent domestic violence, is that violent behaviour grows out of contempt in speech and thought. It is our individual and shared responsibility to call out unacceptable behaviour against women in our school and beyond.

The second has to do with the limitations that are placed on girls, their abilities and their futures. (I only used up until the 1:29 mark for this video.) My reflections focus on the fact that these school years are largely determinative for future paths and that we must not allow our young women to be deterred from possibilities because of gender stereotyping, particularly around Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

The third has to do with the unpaid work involved in making a household work. There is a fundamental injustice represented in the fact that women still do the vast majority of unpaid work in our community. I encouraged our young women to evaluate the young men around them in light of how willing and able they are to shoulder the burden of housework and I called the young men to step up as a matter of principle.

Obviously, the above is only a skeletal outline of my address, and my address was only one small step towards gender equality in our context. Nonetheless, a journey consists of lots of little steps and I was surprised and encouraged by how meaningful this speech seemed to be to many in our Senior School.

1 comment:

  1. Very deep: there's a lot of worthwhile things to think about here. Something that I think is important in this discussion is that men & women are equal in worth but different in design: our physical differences are obvious, but the mental ones are plain as well. Too often we (a) equate those differences in capability in different areas to differences in merit [we see this all the time in the area of men vs women's sport]; (b) impute the general statistical trend to individual cases [just because something is often true does not mean it is always true] and most importantly (c) that it is together that men & women are made in the image of God: that it is our unity and harmony and fellowship together that is reflective of our God, who is Father, Spirit and Son all at the same time.