VIPs share at IGS IWD assembly

For International Women's Day, the IGS Girl-Up! Club warmly welcomed three female VIPs to share their stories in the High School Assembly.

Lucy Gardiner of Year 12 who has been with the IGS Girl-Up! Club for three years said the club, for students in Year 9 to 12, meets on Level 1 of the Bibliothèque at 1pm every Monday to share information and advocate for girls and women.

Planning the IWD assembly has been one of their projects. Head Girl Charlotte Waley opened the assembly.

“International Women’s Day is a momentous occasion because it allows us to celebrate all women, in all their diversities – different faiths, races, ethnicities, and sexual identities.

“It allows us to celebrate the women who came before us, those who stand beside us today, and those who will come after us. 

“Today we must celebrate how far we’ve come towards gender equality and also be aware of the further steps that must be taken in achieving equity.

“With this year’s theme, we embrace equity and ensure that people who start from different places are recognised to ensure true inclusion and belonging.”

“Equity is the state in which everyone is treated fairly and impartially.”

Charlotte pointed out that in 1911, women voted in only eight countries and had no reproductive rights, but are now leading a number of countries and corporations.

Much had been achieved to empower people from diverse backgrounds, but more progress was needed, she said.

“As a woman in a leadership position at IGS, I believe that today among all days, it is crucial to recognise the diverse and empowered nature of IGS women. I feel so lucky to have been granted the role of Head Girl at IGS because it has given me the opportunity to privilege the voices of women who have been historically silenced.

“It has been such an honour to work among such strong and inspiring female teachers, staff, and students to better our school community, and the Girl-Up! Club has been no exception.”

Our VIP visitors were invited to share their own stories.

Author and educator Kylie Captain, visual artist and IGS parent Lara Merrett, and medical specialist Associate Professor Payal Saxena described their own challenges and breakthroughs as they followed their passions and purpose to achieve success for the benefit of others.  

Raised in Redfern, Indigenous Australian Kylie was the first in her family to achieve her HSC, thanks to the belief one of her teachers showed in her abilities.

Despite encountering racial and gender prejudice, Kylie went on to work at Woolworths, St George and in child protection, and work with the Department of Education to increase understanding of Aboriginal history and culture, and set up her own business.

She’s worked and studied full time while raising her family, and her 2021 book Dream Big and Imagine What If is now selling nationally and internationally and she is consulting.

“I educate, I am positive and resilient, and I live my life with passion and purpose, up for a challenge,” she said.

Professor Saxena has also experienced racial and gender bias, but despite being told by some senior male surgeons that her specialty was no place for a woman and that new techniques she learnt at Johns Hopkins University in the US would never be welcomed in Australia, she powered through and they have since welcomed her added expertise and have been glad to learn from her.

“I pushed on,” said Professor Saxena. “We all face some sort of challenge in our life, and having a positive attitude is crucial.

“Find those people who will support you. Encourage those people and move forward with them.

“Change does happen all the time. Perseverance pays off.”

She added that it shouldn’t be assumed that all male colleagues would be unhelpful and all female colleagues helpful, as the reverse was sometimes the case.

“If someone bullies you, you have to call it out. Don’t suffer.”

Artist Lara Merrett took 10 years to gain her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from COFA, taking gap years in Spain and the US to work in galleries and as a waiter as she explored the history of art and absorbed information like “a sponge”.

“It was rewarding and fun,” she said.

Despite being told in the 1990s that she could not take her art seriously as well as be a mother, Lara has three children and is successful and fulfilled. She said many women working in the arts now have families.

One of her biggest breakthroughs came when she worked at galleries and Christies auction house and realised that  judgements about art were subjective, even with the awarding of prizes.

“It’s such a ‘luck of the draw’,” she said.

“I became thick skinned,” she said, and accepted that opinions about her own art were just that.

“The most important thing was that I liked what I was doing and I believed in it.”

Being accepted by a big gallery while in her 30s has helped her to achieve her dreams, she said, as she didn’t have to spend time advocating for herself, and in the past five years, more women’s work is being exhibited.

A recent Museum of Contemporary Art artwork of Lara’s brought artmaking to people with disabilities, and she recently won the largest women’s art prize in Australia, the Ravenswood Art Prize which she is judging this year among 2,500 entries.

We thank Nyree for her Acknowledgement of Country, Eve for singing Feeling Good, Girl-Up! for organising the assembly and all of our VIP visitors.