International Women’s Day

On 8 March, people all over the world come together to celebrate International Women’s Day. This day highlights the struggles of gender equality and brings people together to help diminish this.

It’s a chance to take action, and raise awareness of the economic, political and social achievements of women across the world. 

What is the theme this year? 

Bias and discrimination have been holding women back for centuries. This year’s official theme is #BreakTheBias, which looks at how we can collectively break the bias and misconceptions in the interest of creating a gender-equal and inclusive world. 

You can get involved with the #BreakTheBias campaign by sending in photos of yourself with crossed arms as seen on the website or taking a selfie with one of the pledge cards, which you can download here to show your support.

Inspirational women

As part of the celebration, we asked women leaders across the Leeds Sixth Form College about who inspires them and why and how we can break the bias in education.

Dr. Elisabeth Protopapa, Head of Academic Studies at Leeds Sixth Form College, talks about her mother being the biggest inspiration to her. 

“My mother has to be my biggest inspiration. She was a typical Greek mother – just think of a lioness who would do anything to protect her cubs.

“I was always inspired to follow her steps. When growing up, working mothers in Greek culture were seen as ‘breaking the rules of society’. When she finished school at 17, she had to find work to make sure she could pay for her brother’s education and also financially support her parents. She was a working mum but never complained. Sacrificing her own potential to ensure her brother had more opportunities in life was a powerful message.  She made sure I grew up understanding that I was made to contribute to society, and this meant I needed to be the ‘best educated’. I grew up defending the role of women in society, and the right to be educated. 

“My extended family and friend circle expected me to come back after finishing my chemistry degree to get married and be a stay at home mum. My mother made me promise that I would stay in education for as long as I can and use my skills to help others. I ended up providing her with three graduation ceremonies from a BSc, Master’s and a PhD, which was my token of gratitude for the love and inspiration she gave me. The joy on her face will always stay with me.”

Principal of Leeds Sixth Form College, Rachael Booth, shares with us who inspires her and why. 

“It is hard to pin down my personal inspirations to one individual as I feel I have been influenced and shaped by a number of individuals over the years. My parents inspired me to value education and the opportunities it can bring you at a very early age, and my mum certainly gave me the passion for reading I still have to this day. 

“As a historian, it is hard not to be influenced by historical figures and one in particular that inspired me is Mary Wollstonecraft. Her book: ‘A Vindication on the Rights of Woman’ written in 1791 was groundbreaking as it was the first time a book had been published that argued for women’s rights. It is interesting today to think how radical she was in recommending the establishment of a national education system that operated mixed-sex schools. What seems evident to me is her passion for women’s rights and her bravery in arguing for those rights at a time when to many others, this would be unthinkable.

“I reflected often on this feminist pioneer when I began my own career in education and always made sure I taught students about the ‘founding mothers’ when still exam texts were solely referring to the ‘founding fathers’ when discussing theories. Certainly, I have witnessed and experienced gender inequality in my life, but I, like many others, continue to stand up for what is right and support others to do the same.”

This year’s theme is #breakthebias. How do you think we can break the bias in education? 

Elisabeth added: “The current crisis around us has made a lot of people question the direction of the world. What drives us in Leeds Sixth Form College is the responsibility we have to wrap a protective blanket around our young people and show them how to maintain resilience and momentum. We teach them to become future change makers whatever race, gender or origin. That one young Ukrainian or Syrian girl arriving in this country that is fleeing from war could be driven to become the next politician who will take action to protect the next generation. Let’s remind ourselves that education can bring change.”

Rachael commented: “Given Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing in the 1790s, my question is why is it taking so long? Yes, we can look back and say that some nations have come a long way – but what about the others? In the UK, there is still a shortage of female representatives in some areas of work and still so few women in senior leadership roles. 

“The only way to break the bias is to play an active role in our community and share ideas on how to make a change. We also need to challenge inequalities and empower others to do so. I think it is important that we challenge ourselves as individuals every day. I was lucky enough to benefit from inspirational female mentors that spotted the potential in me and helped me realise it, therefore I hope to do the same for others.”

Lastly, Carla Smithies, Performance and Project Coordinator, talks about Professor Miriam Meyerhoff being her inspiration. 

“I came across Professor Miriam Meyerhoff’s publications during my study of English Language and Linguistic Science at the University of York. Her research focuses on sociolinguistics and examines the impact that social identity and gender have on language. 

“This area of linguistics she writes about is interesting as it looks at fascinating variations of standard English. This is important work in breaking the bias as it sheds light on elements that people aren’t aware cause language variation and how society may discriminate towards these shifts from the “standard”. 

“The enrichment programme at Leeds Sixth Form College allows students studying any combination of A levels to choose an extracurricular programme that excites them or will further their progression. It means students can collaborate with others outside of the classroom, and grow solidarity with those who hold similar values, experiences or interests.”

Take a look at the International Women’s Day resources here.