It may not always feel like it, but in many ways – and certainly compared to previous generations, and our counterparts in other parts of the world – to be born a girl in the UK in the 21st century is like winning the lottery.
While some countries, like Rwanda, are ahead of the UK in terms of women’s representation in national politics, it still shocks me that this is the exception rather than the norm. We know that girls in parts of the developing world are still disproportionately denied a good education. We still witness women in many countries denied basic rights.
And, as we all know well, winning the UK lottery is still not enough. Women still make up less than a third of UK Members of Parliament. Since 1918, there have been only 489 women MPs – they wouldn’t even fill the chamber of the House of Commons. It all makes for depressing reading.
What gives me hope is that girls today are – quite rightly – not content with this status quo, either for themselves or their sisters worldwide. They are aware of how much progress towards gender equality has been made in the western world, and how lucky they are to be girls and women here.
They not only want that progress to be matched in the developing world, they are determined to “Press for Progress” here until gender equality has been achieved for all.
The girls and young women I talk to every single day in our schools are more fired up than ever before. While they understand there are still many challenges ahead, they also know how important their contribution will be in making the world a better place for all.
It’s through these conversations that I come to appreciate anew the critical role that education has to play in preparing girls for life beyond the classroom. The specific challenges may be different around the world, but the heart of what we all want to achieve and what we are fighting for is the same.
It is our job as educators and role models to help equip the next generation with the tools to find their voice and take on these challenges, filled with purpose to make a real difference in the world.
One of the women who inspires many of our girls is Malala Yousafzai. She too recognises that girls’ education is at the heart of future progress, not just for women themselves, but for communities, societies, indeed the whole world.
And not just education in the traditional sense of acquiring knowledge and skills, but also learning how to use your voice, individually and collectively, and to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.
What also excites and inspires me is the way in which social media and technology has done so much to shrink the world. Girls and women are learning more about the work and campaigns of fearless pioneers in other parts of the world, and that in turn inspires and motivates them to stand up for what they believe is themselves.
They see the young women (and young men) who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland become powerful and righteous activists for change in their country, and are inspired to press for changes they want to see here too.
Being more connected helps to share ideas, inspiration and also to support each other. It helps make International Women’s Day not just one day, but every day. As it should be.
Our girls have a vision that is personal, that is local to their own communities, and is global in its reach and its ambition – reaching as many girls as possible and standing up for girls and young people everywhere.
A global mission that gathers momentum every day – from black dominating the red carpet at the BAFTAs to Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, and millions of other small but invaluable moments that reinforce just how inexorable progress has become.
That is why I am so optimistic for the future. These are exciting times. Together, we can all play a part.