International Women’s Day: a pivotal moment to champion fearless women and inspire every girl who wants to create a better future for all

This time last year, my blog focused on why it was so important for the GDST to embrace International Women’s Day (IWD), and use it as an opportunity to recognise the contributions, however big or small, of the countless women across the world who strive to create a better, more equal world for us all. Since then, it has been an incredible twelve months for female role models including Greta Gerwig, whose Barbie became the first film directed by a woman to make $ 1 billion at the box office and Janet Truncale, who was appointed as global chief executive of Ernst & Young (EY), making her the first woman to lead a Big Four accounting firm. And last week, we saw Clare Lombardelli being named deputy governor for monetary policy at the Bank of England. Her arrival in July will give the Monetary Policy Committee, which sets interest rates, a female majority for the first time in the Bank’s long history.

On International Women’s Day 2024, we are more determined to advocate for the rights of all girls and women, enabling them in any way possible to realise their fullest potential. As might be expected, GDST schools champion equality on each and every day of the school calendar, and of the entire year for that matter. Our schools work tirelessly to encourage girls to reject gender stereotypes, and to instil them with ambition and fearlessness to pursue and succeed in whichever career path they may choose in the future. Championing girls and young women is in our DNA.

I am pleased that this year’s IWD celebration is focused on the theme Invest in women: Accelerate progress because nearly every investment we make is designed to prepare our students for the future. A future in which they can make a positive impact on their communities and on wider society, to help accelerate progress for everyone. The GDST’s commitment to building innovative learning spaces with sustainability at their core nurtures an interest in protecting the natural world, which fosters students’ curiosity to explore construction and careers in sustainability. The launch of our future-focused Space Technology programme – to plug the gender gap in STEM – has ignited our students’ ambitions to literally reach for the stars. Additionally, I am fully confident that the future of British enterprise and industry is in exciting hands, thanks to our GDST Leadership Enterprise Advanced Diploma (LEAD), which has been developed in partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE) to encourage young women to get comfortable with being future leaders and entrepreneurs.

international women's day

Teachers across our schools, such as Sutton High School‘s Head of Computer Science, Nicola Jane Buttigieg, the creator of our Space Technology Diploma, continue to inspire our students during IWD and beyond. This month, Nicola and a group of senior computer science students will attend the 2024 Royal Society Student Conference. She has worked relentlessly to secure a Royal Society STEM Partnership Grant for the school, and this event will give the girls an opportunity to formally present the outcomes of their field projects.

Of course, we balance our enthusiasm with a healthy dose of realism to ensure that we remain motivated to push harder for lasting change. A recent example of this ‘balance’ is “The Gender Snapshot 2023” report by United Nations Women, the founders of IWD. The annual report found that the gender gap in power and leadership positions remains entrenched, and, at the current rate of progress, the next generation of women will still spend on average 2.3 more hours per day on unpaid care and domestic work than men. For the first time this report, which highlights trends on the journey towards achieving gender equality by 2030, includes data on the intersections of gender and climate change. It forecasts that by mid-century, under a worst-case climate scenario, climate change may push up to 158.3 million more women and girls into poverty (16 million more than the total number of men and boys).

These concerning statistics indicate the pressing need for girls and young women across the world to gain access to a good quality education which will empower them to lobby for permanent improvements to the equity gap. They also remind us of the importance of GDST’s own commitment, made as part of our 150th campaign to establish 150 new 100%+ bursaries which will provide all a student needs to flourish at school, including access to extra-curricular activities and core school trips. We believe that every girl who is talented and ambitious to learn should be given the opportunity to fulfil her potential regardless of her financial circumstances.

In the spirit of disagreeing agreeably, I accept that there are a multitude of reasonable objections to the proliferation of IWD and Women’s History Month events at this time of the year. The unfortunate truth is, they can offer convenient opportunities for some organisations to engage in performative feminism. But let us not opt out of engaging with these pivotal, internationally recognised moments, which have been set aside to increase awareness of gender inequalities. Instead, let us embrace them as opportunities to celebrate and support all the girls and women whose greatest aspiration is to live in a better, more equal world.


The GDST Difference

The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) is the UK’s leading family of 25 girls’ schools including 23 independent schools and two academies. In March 2023, the GDST published ‘The GDST Difference’  – a booklet compiling our own research, and analysis of the findings, setting out to break down why GDST schools and all-girl learning environments can offer the best start in life for young women.

Discover more about The GDST Difference