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Leaders in the making

Photograph: North Zealand International School

Text: Michaela Medvedova

International Women’s Day is an interesting marker of time passed in the history of gender equality. It’s a cause to celebrate all the important milestones achieved and a reminder of everything that still needs achieving.

Every year, the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report measures how long it will take to erase gender inequality on factors such as economic opportunity, political power, education, and health. During the first year of the pandemic, the due date of gender equality moved away by a generation. In 2020, it was supposed to take 99,5 years. In 2021, it increased to 135,6 years.

Education is one of the significant areas suffering from inequality. Be it because of child marriage, poverty, or other factors, according to UNICEF, only 49% of countries worldwide can boast gender parity in primary schools - and as we move to higher levels of education, the percentage drops.

But at the same time, education can help close the gap between the two genders in developed countries, where other societal factors contribute to gender inequality. “I believe there is still a disparity in leadership roles because of the different societal pressures men and women face as adults,” says Amy Groom, a teacher at North Zealand International School (NIS). For example, many women still face pressure to be seen as gentle and caring, whereas men are expected to be outspoken and assertive - qualities usually attributed to leaders.

“To me, empowerment means giving young women the tools they need to feel confident in their abilities. Giving girls confidence in how to use their voice is vital - and one way of giving them this confidence is making sure that strong female figures are visible in their everyday lives.”

"Fortunately, there are many fantastic role models in schools for young girls. at NIS, for example, all the science teachers in the International school are female. so it's great that girls know any career direction is possible," says Head of School Karen Bøttger.

Role models that inspire to lead

That is why seeing female leadership in schools is so important from a young age. Being surrounded by strong role models can inspire girls to take on a leadership role themselves. “Fortunately, there are many fantastic role models in schools for young girls. At NIS, for example, all the science teachers in the International school are female. So it’s great that girls know any career direction is possible,” says Head of School Karen Bøttger.

She believes schools play a huge role in ensuring equity in classrooms. “All learners, male or female, are empowered to take a variety of roles in class or group work. Girls and boys in schools need equal access to opportunities to lead. It has to become the norm.”

NIS ensures equal opportunities by eliminating gender-based titles and requirements in leadership roles. For example, each class has two school council representatives - in practice, this means that some classes may have two boys or two girls representing their class. “By taking away the requirement of gender, you place the focus on the individuals and their personal qualities,” says Amy.

Striving for gender equality

According to Karen, international schools have a responsibility to prepare young people for the future, a part of which is a school-wide focus on sustainable development goals (SDGs). Learners develop an awareness of challenges and work together to find solutions. The following school year will be devoted to SDG #5: Gender Equality.

NIS ensures that all students have an equal opportunity to express themselves and develop. “Many traditional teaching practices and assessment techniques cater more to male brains. We consistently update our teaching with innovative techniques to ensure all students can demonstrate their full potential,” explains Amy.

Students are also encouraged to research and discuss various topics, especially those surrounding current sexism-based problems. As part of the homeroom curriculum in upper secondary education, it’s, for example, sexual harassment and how to prevent it in the future. Amy believes that teaching all students, not just girls, about these issues is vital to changing the attitudes and culture surrounding the problems.

As an international school, NIS is also mindful of diversity in their curriculum, so students, for example, learn about influential women in fields of science and writers from various cultural backgrounds. “Learning about heroines of the past can pave the way for inspiring the heroines of the future,” Amy concludes.

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