International Women’s Day 2018: Voice, Power and Privilege

Posted March 7, 2018 in School News By Community Relations

Dr Deborah Netolicky, Dean of Research and Pedagogy at Wesley College

The global theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Press for Progress’, and is intended to bring awareness to women’s achievements, mindfulness about gender inequities, and support for gender parity.

The past twelve months have brought the announcement of the first female Doctor Who, as well as films about, and directed by, women like Wonder Woman and Battle of the Sexes. Jacinda Ardern was appointed as the Prime Minister of New Zealand at the age of 37, making her the world’s youngest female Head of Government. The McGowan Government announced an initiative to increase the total number of women appointed to government boards and committees from 43% to 50% by 2019. Last month Vodafone and Code First: Girls announced that they will provide free coding training for 1,000 14 to 18 year-old girls across 26 countries.

As I noted a year ago, gender inequities endure in terms of pay and female representation in industries, on boards and in leadership. In Australia, only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in ten engineering graduates are women. In the education sector in Australia there remains a discrepancy between the amount of women in teaching versus the number of those in leadership positions. 80% of primary teachers are female but only 57.5% of primary principals are female. 58.4% of secondary teachers are female, yet only 41.7% of secondary principals are female.


At Wesley, we have three strong women on our College Council—Professor Grady Venville, Ms Rabbia Siddique, and Mrs Cheryl Haak. Of our eight College Executive members, three are women—Head of Junior School, Mrs Maria Hodges; Head of Human Resources, Mrs Dee Bignell; and Director of Community Relations, Ms Mary Henry. A number of our senior and middle leaders are also women. For the first time in its history, Wesley has advertised for a Head of College to lead Wesley from 2019. The change in wording from ‘Headmaster’ reflects that the College is looking for the best person to lead it, regardless of gender.

In her book published at the end of 2017, Women & Power: A Manifesto, Mary Beard advocates for a world in which power can exist in diverse ways, writing:

You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders.

Beard’s challenge to think about power differently resonates through social media, which has been a vehicle for global solidarity and activism surrounding issues of discrimination and inequity. There are those who use humour to shine a spotlight on gender absurdities. The spoof Twitter account @manwhohasitall, for example, publishes tweets such as: ‘My dream: That one day boys will become anything they want to be – male chairwomen, gentleman drivers, men writers or boys who code.

There are more serious movements on social media, too, such as #CodeLikeAGirl, #MeToo and #TimesUp. #MeToo began with Tarana Burke’s grassroots movement in 2006 in Alabama, and was amplified in 2017 by Alyssa Milano’s tweet that led to the hashtag being used more than 12 million times. TIME magazine named its person of the year ‘The Silence Breakers’ of the #MeToo movement. Social media is one way that the global community is coming together to think collaboratively, elevate diverse voices, and rethink power structures.

For all members of our Wesley community, on International Women’s Day and every day, we provide a range of opportunities and a variety of role models to whom our students can aspire. Our girls and boys are supported to follow our motto of By daring & by doing, to strive for their own best and to dream big. Our Senior School boys are also constantly encouraged to consider what it means to be good men, in principle and in practice. As the UN Women’s #HeForShe campaign points out, gender equality is not a women’s issue, but a human rights issue.


This year our celebrations will be held in the Junior School, with a special event recognising our girls and their mothers. There will also be an assembly, where staff members will share with students who their most influential female role model is. Then in May, Wesley will host one of AISWA’s Women in Educational Leadership network meetings, with guest speaker Zoe Yujonivich, Chairman of Shell Australia and Vice President Integrated Gas for Australia and New Zealand.

To ‘Press for Progress’ on issues of discrimination, opportunity and diversity, we can be mindful of those things that are normalised in our world in terms of who gets to speak and where power resides. Those of us with a voice, privilege and a platform to be heard can ask ourselves: Are we preserving existing power structures or are we helping others? As Tarana Burke said in an interview with The Guardian, how we use our privilege matters, ‘you have to use it in the service of other people.

Find out more about International Women’s Day 2018 by clicking here.

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