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#IWD2021: 6 ‘changemakers’ inspiring young women now

Choose to Challenge is the official theme of International Women’s Day, but who do girls feel has been most influential in challenging inequality and gender bias this year?

#ChooseToChallenge visual art in Stockwell, South London. Image: Sophy Robson

Covid may have put a stop to so many things this past year. But one thing still very much happening is International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, a global event celebrating the social economic, cultural, and political achievements; while calling for gender equality.

This official theme this year is Choose to Challenge when facing gender bias or inequality, and IMD organisers are asking people to strike the Choose To Challenge pose – with your hands held high – and share it on social media. You can also download the #ChooseToChallenge selfie cards.

In Warwickshire, all-girls secondary school King’s High, Warwick, is launching a forward-thinking Changemakers programme – giving girls the chance to make real, active change whether it’s setting up a social enterprise, running a charity or an environmental project.

We asked new Head Master Dr Stephen Burley who, according to students, are the most inspirational global changemakers of 2021? Here are the top six women and activists leading the way:

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament in Strasbourg

The 18-year-old Swedish Climate and environmental activist with Asperger’s who came up with the idea for #schoolstrike4climate has mobilised a generation of young people to take action (and skip Fridays) against climate change.

 “We have done so much work on changemakers and the girls are really passionate about the environment and sustainability – so it’s great for them to see someone of their own age making such a huge difference globally.”

Kamala Harris

US President Joe Biden’s no 2 is the first African American and first Asian American vice president. Kamala’s mum was a cancer scientist who took Kamala and her younger sister Maya, to the lab on weekends, while her Jamaican dad taught at Stanford University.

The 56-year-old rose through the ranks as a deputy district attorney before taking on the role of attorney general of California and serving in the US Senate. She believes focusing on controlling the pandemic will help bring together Americans, “no matter who they voted for.” Her memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, was published in January 2019.

“Our girls have been energised by the wider debates about racial equality, following the death of George Floyd in America and the election of Kamala Harris.

“An Equality Working Party was set up by students in response to Black Lives Matter. A group of girls also launched a racial equality and social justice group. It’s had the most exciting discussions on racial justice, resulting in multi-faith groups, the celebration of cultural and religious festivals and one of the most inspiring assemblies I’ve ever seen!

“They’ve presented to parents, governors and the senior management team. We’re now looking at creating a social justice course for younger girls to celebrate some of the multicultural and racial issues raised. We do have a diverse school population with 25% pupils from ethnic minority groups so it’s important to hear their voices and celebrate their religious festivals.”

Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman recites her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan 20, 2021.

After reading her poem The Hill We Climb this 22-year-old poet and activist became the most talked-about person at the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden. Her three upcoming books shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate has even been interviewed by Michelle Obama in Time magazine about her work which focus’ on oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization.

We showed Amanda Gorman reading her poem in assembly and the girls found it really, really inspiring! Seeing young people like her using their voice to challenge and make a difference really helps their confidence.”

Ann Makosinski

Ann Makosinski in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a visit to give a speak

Aged 16, Filipino-Canadian teenager Ann won the 2013 Google Science Fair with a flashlight that runs on heat from a human hand – inspired by a friend in the Philippines who was struggling at school because her family couldn’t afford electricity to light a room for her to study in.

The Canadian teenager – now 23 – became a media sensation, dubbed a child prodigy and the next Elon Musk, appearing on the Forbes 30 Under 30 energy list. To her parents surprise the young inventor turned down an engineering scholarship and studied for an English Literature degree. Most recently after an ‘emotional’ Arctic expedition, she was inspired to develop a range of quirky toys that spin, sing and light up using power harnessed from the sun, water or body heat to teach kids about renewable energy.

“We’ve also been looking at lesser known but, culturally influential changemakers like Canadian inventor Ann Makosinski.”

Marcus Rashford MBE

Closer to home the Manchester United & England football player has been battling with the UK government for free school meals in holidays and campaigning to end child food poverty. Inspired by his own experiences growing up and those of 2.3million disadvantaged children during the Covid pandemic, he”s also launched a new website, End Child Food Poverty and fronted a BBC One documentary Marcus Rashford: Feeding Britain’s Children.

“The work Marcus Rashford has been doing for food poverty and holiday hunger has influenced the work our social justice group is doing and I’m really proud of that. We also have girls involved in some wonderful community projects.”

Felicity Bee 

‘Empowered women really do empower women,’ was the powerful message by this former Warwickshire King’s High pupil in a recent Landor Lecture to pupils. The 23-year-old studies medicine at Cardiff University, while also competing in the British Olympic bobsleigh squad and training for the winter Olympics. Previous Landor speakers include fellow Old Girls Sophie Turner (actor, Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones) and Dr Helen Castor (British historian & BBC broadcaster) and TV historian Lucy Worsley. 

“Felicity was so inspiring for the girls. She’s an incredible role model for them.”

EMPOWERING ‘CHANGEMAKERS OF THE FUTURE

He may be just six weeks in the hot seat but Dr Stephen Burley, has been at King’s High since Jan 2017, and already introduced a brilliant Inspire enrichment programme. It encompasses societies, clubs, trips, seminars and talks by influential female scientists (like award-winning physicist at Imperial College Dr Jess Wade), philosophers (including Prof Angie Hobbs, Sheffield Uni) and creatives (including Dr Janina Ramirez), encouraging curiosity, creative thinking and independent ideas.

Here’s three more ways the school is helping to empower ‘changemakers of the future’. Over to you Dr Burley…

1. Creative Thinking

“The future world is changing fast and soft skills will be so important, which is why we’re focusing on creative thinking. In a recent article Forbes listed 9 Soft Skills every Employee Will Need in The Age of Artificial Intelligence and creative thinking is right at the top.

“We have been at the forefront nationally of trialling a Certificate in Creative Thinking. We’ve had Years 10 and 11 solving real world problems working on their own or in collaboration with others and there’s been some lovely work covering a huge range of topics they’re passionate about.”

2. A new Changemaker programme

“As part of our new Changemaker programme, to be launched soon, pupils will get to submit a proposal whether it’s to start up a social enterprise, a new charity or an environmental project, and we will try to support and facilitate that.

“We’re educating the Changemakers of the future – young women who will go out into the world and make a positive difference, inspired by strong values and a powerful sense of social responsibility.” 

3. Raising awareness of gender bias & inequality

“When challenging gender stereotypes or bias I think it comes back to confidence and is absolutely vital girls feel really comfortable in their own skins. We promote discussion and reflect on gender equality.

“It’s a really positive time to be a young woman in the UK. Society can change and equality is one of those key areas. At home it’s good for parents to be open about it and giving examples of where inequality is rife whether it’s salaries or fewer women in top leadership roles.

“Here at King’s girls are charting their future paths – as well as good uni places at Russell Group universities, we’ve seen an increase in the number of girls taking up prestigious degree apprenticeships including one sixth former who’s at The Dyson Institute and another at Lloyds.”

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