International Women’s Day
It was a very special assembly gathering this International Women’s Day in the year of our 125th anniversary. Our guest panellists, Alumnae from over several decades, spoke about their paths, and the impact that this College had on who they are today, and what they chose to do with their lives. It was inspiring to hear their insights and to share with them an acknowledgement of the impact of this very special school on generations of young women since 1897.
I spoke to the girls about what International Women’s Day helps to bring into sharp focus for everyone, especially in relation to “breaking the bias” to allow the full participation and flourishing of women, which in turn supports the full flourishing of society in general.
There was a latent sexism at play here that made an assumption based on gender, it wasn’t personal – and this is what we continue to contest – the pervasive attitudes, assumptions and mindsets that relegate us to second place, that send the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages that we are not enough or good enough because of our gender. This is not just our fight for our own individual rights and recognition – it is about the path and the foundation we set for the generations of women who will come after us. It is walking in the legacy of great women who have gone before us – who step by step, incremental change by incremental change, began to shatter those glass ceilings, so that there are vistas of opportunity and possibility opened up before us – no limits, especially because of our gender.
I wonder how much we really understand about the generations of Sisters of Charity whose hard work and toil have gifted not only this school, but a feminist legacy. One author writes of the sisters in the 19th century “women who achieved much because they dared greatly. They were among the signal achievers of the nineteenth century. Feminist historians sometimes fail to see that the convent offered women of that time rare opportunities to head complex enterprises such as hospitals and schools. These women were among the great entrepreneurs of that day and their monuments survive to this day.” The book describing the early ventures of the sisters in Australia is titled “A cause of Trouble”.
The story of the sisters, and especially for us here in Australia, is one of industry and endeavour, initiative and innovation, hard work in the name of God by women who did not have a place in the hierarchy of men (or the Church) in their time.
What do we know of the character of the Sisters who were headmistresses and teachers, administrators and learning supporters of this great school – strong, resolute, open to new ideas, forward-thinking, creative (often in radical ways). We are the inheritors of the story of a great group of Iconic women whose spirit lingers on in this place that nurtures and sustains us today.
All of us here follow in their footsteps. All of us have a responsibility to that legacy and to the generations of women who will come after us.