For Queen Elizabeth II to appear alongside Angelina Jolie is not a common occurrence (although, as the photograph shows, it is not unprecedented) but their names were linked in an interesting way on Tuesday as we, alongside thousands of other schools and organisations, took time out of our busy schedules to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD)
So, what do the Queen and Angelina have in common? Read on to discover more.
IWD, as it has become known, is now a global phenomenon with its own website, partnerships with a number of corporations (from Accenture to Western Union) and even a link with the World Association of Girl Guiding.
We may wonder why it is important to have an IWD – after all, we don’t have an equivalent for men! (Actually, we do. International Men’s Day falls on 19 November and is recognised in 70 countries worldwide but, inaugurated as recently as 1992, it has gained nothing like the traction of IWD worldwide.)
Reports, such as that by the World Economic Forum – published, ironically enough, on International Men’s Day 2015 – may go some way to explaining why IWD is growing in prominence with each passing year. The Report concluded that, since women globally currently earn on average about 54% of the wage of their male counterparts for similar work, at the present rate of change, it may well take until the year 2133 to close the gender pay gap. Even in the UK, ranked 18th in the world for pay parity, the gap currently stands at about 14%. Put another way, this means that women in the UK in effect work for free in comparison with their male co-workers from 9 November each year. IWD may be said, therefore, to be dedicated to ensuring its own eventual demise as unnecessary, which may rescue it from the charges of tokenism levelled at it by some feminist critics.
The event, in fact, has a long history; the first recorded Women’s Day, organised by American socialists to commemorate a strike by the Ladies Garment Workers’ Union in New York, took place as long ago as February 1909. The date of 8 March was first chosen in 1914 after British Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square on that day. From the very beginning, then, IWD was associated with the struggle for economic and political equality. In 1917, for example, women in St Petersburg, holding an IWD demonstration, played a crucial part in the world-changing events of the Russian Revolution.
A second dimension, however, to IWD is its aim to ‘celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world’ in a bid to address the relative lack of visibility of women in many areas of life – for example, in boardrooms and at the Bar, in professorial chairs and at operating tables. Relative lack of visibility, I say, because there are millions of women today who are doing tremendous work and acting as inspiring role models to their contemporaries. One such is Louise Pentland, a blogger/author and Northampton High School alumna, who came to add ‘a sprinkle of glitter’ to our Book Week in February. Louise has recently been chosen by the United Nations as one of their Change Ambassadors with a remit to campaign for gender parity, adding her distinctive voice to the thousands who are using social media for gender barriers to be torn down.
This is why, at Northampton High, we chose to celebrate IWD 2016 as INSPIRATIONAL Women’s Day, by asking the question ‘Who is the most inspiring woman of our times?’ In Senior School, our special Assembly opened with Rebecca Thomas and Natasha Wilcockson performing their own arrangement of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ for cello duet.
To launch our search for the Inspirational Woman of 2016 we heard four students, Rosie Saxton, Elisa Hemeng, Priya Lakkappa and
Victoria Eden speak, with eloquence and conviction, in favour of their nominees – 7/7 attack survivor Gill Hicks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, educational activist Malala Yousafzai and actor and humanitarian campaigner Angelina Jolie respectively. Meanwhile, in Junior School, the Year 6 girls collaborated to compile a list of women who inspired them, coming up with a dozen names from many walks of life – sport and the silver screen, politics and philanthropy – and different generations (Meryl Streep alongside Jessica Ennis-Hill, for example).
Then came the Big Vote – the excitement of polling and waiting for the final result. Which brings me back to Queen Elizabeth II and Angelina Jolie, who shared the honours as Junior and Senior School winners respectively. And which only goes to show, reassuringly, that there is no identikit role model for Northampton High girls and that inspiration comes in many forms. Isobel Carman used the IWD video booth, set up by Ms Heimfeld during the week, to pay a moving tribute to her courageous mum and the Reception girls nominated Mrs McCue, our own Catering Manager, following what was clearly an inspiring tour of the school kitchen with her. Finally, I should add my own roll call of inspiring women – my colleagues Mrs Drew, Mrs Fordham, Miss Fraser, Ms Heimfeld, Miss Hurst, Mrs Li-Lakkappa and Mrs Wrightson, who did a great deal to make the day special.
Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress