Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Will you be a role model?

This is a guest post from Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, originally featured in the February edition of WI Life.

I am asking you for one hour of your time. Not for me (much as I am sure we would enjoy chatting)but for girls. One hour to go back to school —any state school —and share your experiences, at work and in life, whatever they are, whatever you do, wherever you live. Those of you who are teachers, mothers, grandmothers or aunts of girls may not be surprised by the findings of a recent Girlguiding survey that almost nine in 10 girls aged 11 to 21 think that women are judged more on their appearance than their ability.

Worse, one in three aged 7 to 21 feel they have been patronised or `made to feel stupid' because of their gender. I have no daughters, so I was shocked by these figures when I heard them. Every time I go to a school and speak to girls I come back thinking that `our future is going to be OK'. They are curious, they are resilient; they are ambitious, but in a realistic way. So we must be doing something seriously wrong if, with all that potential, those girls are already feeling so constrained at such a young age.

Most girls, when asked, tell us that part of the problem is that, simply, there aren't enough female role models. I hope you agree with me that this is absurd because there are not a few, not many, but legions of female role models out there... in the streets, at school, at home. You are one of them. So are your friends. And most definitely so are your mother and mother-in-law, too.

But I am sure you could name many others: women who are courageous, determined, generous, who have achieved extraordinary accomplishments in their daily lives, women who we would like to be like. They may not be in magazines or on TV but they are the real role models of our time. I could name hundreds of them and I am sure you could too.

Women – all women - should be rushing back to schools to tell girls, if you are looking for role models they are right here. You might be thinking that you are not really sure you have anything to say. But believe me, you do — as soon as they start asking you questions you will realise that the choices you have made in life can be helpful to them. We are not trying to tell girls what to do. We are simply saying that they should feel free to choose whatever they want to do in life —and that includes feeling free and proud to aim high in their careers and in their lives. That is the main purpose of the campaign I'm backing: going to schools, talking to our girls and listening to them. All women, from all walks of life, in or outside paid work, are welcome in this new adventure led by Inspiring the Future, a charity that puts together volunteer speakers and children in state schools.

Our aim is to get 15,000 women talking to 250,000 girls across the country by August 2014. So far, we have received an overwhelming response from volunteers and schools alike. And many companies —big and small —are offering their support, too. So it is totally do-able. I very much hope we can encourage you, our WI friends, to join this campaign. Registering only takes a few minutes. And all you have to do is to give one hour a year to visit a school near your home or work to make a difference.

I know helping other women is what the WI is about. Your help in this campaign would make such a huge difference — please do join us!

The `Inspiring Women' campaign is not directly associated with the WI, but the NFWI supports its aims. Sign up to the campaign at www.inspiringwomencampaign.org or call 0203 206 0510

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