ACT Public Schools empower students to be change-makers for gender equality

 July 09, 2019

IWD Best Practice Winners

ACT Public Schools understand that young people are the future – they are our hope for a #BalanceforBetter. So for International Women's Day, ACT Public School students were invited to an event. The students were nominated by their principal as the individuals most likely to make a difference in their schools and in our future society.

This IWD activity was developed after the ACT Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development and the ACT Education Directorate Director-General wanted to hold a system-wide event to bring students together to celebrate IWD, look at real-life issues relating to equity, and empower students to be change-makers in their local communities.

Empowering students to stand up for what they believe in

Five students from across each ACT public secondary schools, including our two special needs schools, arrived at the event while a former student played the guitar and sang, which both showcased the talent in the ACT, but also set the tone for the day. Another incredibly talented student shared her own song about reconciliation as the MC, a recent ACT Public School graduate, opened the event by reminding students that this was a day of empowerment - not only on issues of equity, but also about developing skills and tools to stand up and advocate for their beliefs.

Sharing fascinating insights from women speakers

This impressive aim to empower students included inviting female keynote speakers to share their experiences of equality and how they have influenced change throughout their careers. Speakers included the ACT Minister for Education and Early Childhood Education, a victim of domestic violence who established a comedy gala to raise funds for other victims of domestic violence, and a young woman leader in a male-dominated forestry industry. After asking some impressive and challenging questions, the students then formed small groups to network and brainstorm issues of equity they see in their community.  

Following a brainstorming session, a panel of young women including the ACT Young Australian of the Year nominee who works in the space industry, a lawyer and actor, and the director of a girls rock camp, answered the students' questions about how they lead change in their fields. The panel spoke about changing culture, persevering, speaking up and proactively addressing issues.

International Womens Day female keynote speakers

Discussing current social issues and creating a plan for change 

Following a workshop led by local think tank Lighthouse Innovation on how to find a focus in their ideas, the students worked on designing a plan for implementing change in their community and preparing and delivering a pitch that was presented to their principal at the end of the day. Principals had to consider the pitch and support the students in  implementing their idea at school. Pitches were inspired by many issues spoken about on the day, including women's leadership in sports, school uniforms, availability of sanitary items in schools, respectful language in school, increasing awareness about consent, and the impact of social media.

Hearing the voices and ideas of young people

ACT Public School's event provides a sound example of how to authentically engage students in social issues and show them how to make a change in their own future – even if only small. Importantly, this event was not tokenistic. There has been significant follow up with many schools implementing the pitches delivered by the students, such as a ‘tech-free Tuesday’ to give students a break from the pressures of social media and encourage them to reconnect with their friends.

Thanks to useful IWD tools and resources, students learned how to define issues and find the a small executable step towards achieving their goals and making their voices heard.

"The most amazing part of this event was seeing young students from the ACT getting involved in the discussion about these important global issues," says Bec Hughes,  ACT Education Directorate.

"While we have a way to go in bettering the balance, our next generation is already helping lead the way."

ACT International Womens Day event

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