We were all horrified to hear recently of the appalling testimonies from girls and women who have been subjected to coercion and harassment, by strangers in public and by their contemporaries in private. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered these abuses.
Women need to feel safe. Women deserve to feel safe.
GDST schools talk regularly with our students: about consent and coercion; about setting and respecting boundaries; about having the confidence to stand up for yourself and your friends; and about calling out harassment wherever you see it – even if the person doing the harassing is someone you know and like.
As educators of girls for nearly 150 years, we remind our pupils to trust their instincts, use their voices and to speak up about what isn’t right. Our message to our girls is that any incident, however minor it may seem, should be reported in case it adds to a wider picture, and that any form of harassment is not acceptable and should not be shrugged off. Abuse is abuse and should never be tolerated or passed off as “banter”, “just having a laugh” or “part of growing up”. We want to make sure girls are well educated about the difference between healthy, respectful relationships and when those can tip over into abuse. In addition, there is an ongoing dialogue about possible threats they may face from predators who may try to exploit them in person or online.
But that is still not enough. We need more of our boys and our men to be taught to respect girls and women, and to respect boundaries. To view girls and women as equals. To value girls and women as friends, colleagues, and partners. So many men and boys are already fully engaged with this; but to truly make gender equality a reality, where everyone can flourish, we need even more boys and men to step up.
These conversations may sometimes be uncomfortable, but, with the recent focus on the inhospitable environment many women and girls experience, they have never been more necessary.
GDST schools are engines of progress, where girls learn without limits and where a girl’s confidence and resilience grow so that she can thrive and go on to contribute to making this a better world for everyone.
Let’s commit to making sure that girls everywhere can live without limits too.
We call on everyone to make a personal pledge on your social media channels, using the hashtag #HelpingGirlsLiveWithoutLimits, so that we all commit to making this a better world for everyone.
Cheryl Giovannoni, 17 March 2021