Yesterday, 8th March 2015, was celebrated as International Women’s Day around the world. While the day has a history (or herstory) of over one hundred years, yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the date being claimed for this celebration by the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
“The Platform for Action covers 12 critical areas of concern that are as relevant today as 20 years ago: poverty; education and training; health; violence; armed conflict; economy; power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; media; environment; and the girl child.”
The Secretary-General of the United Nations concludes the foreword to the 2015 paper with these words:
The paper states that
“Nearly 20 years after the adoption of the Platform for Action, no country has achieved equality for women and girls and significant levels of inequality between women and men persist.”
This article in Time Magazine recognises that, while some gains have been made, there is still much more to be done to eliminate inequality. It repeats the call to action made by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka:
In line with the general achievements that have been made towards gender equality, and the gaps that still exist, is the situation for girls in schools, especially with regard to maths and science education. While more girls are moving into those areas than did when I was at school, there are still not enough.
She says that “the data . . . shows that the difference among graduates is not due to girls’ ability to do math and science; instead, the gender gap is caused by attitudes and behaviors toward girls and women, especially in the classroom.”
“Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying.”
This article by Sue Wilson cites research confirming the bias of teachers against girls showing that boys often received higher marks than did girls of equal ability. While the girls were discouraged from continuing their studies of maths and science subjects, the boys (whose teachers had over-assessed their ability) went on to be successful in those subjects.
For the past three years during which time I have been writing science curriculum documents, I have had the extreme good fortune of working with one of Australia’s top science teachers. In fact Deb Smith has won many awards for her science teaching including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools in 2010. Throughout her career Deb has been an advocate for girls in science and has encouraged many girls, who otherwise would not have, to pursue careers in science.
I haven’t yet considered whether Marnie, a character I have been developing through my flash fiction stories, would have, let alone pursue, an interest in maths and science subjects. I think it would be all she could do to survive. You see, Marnie’s childhood had little to recommend it: a dysfunctional family in which she suffered neglect and abuse, and difficulties at school and with friendships as a result. However a teacher like Deb Smith or Ainissa Ramirez could make a difference to her engagement with those subjects. Marnie was fortunate that a teacher saw in her something special and provided support and guidance at a time that was crucial to her survival.
This week, in response to the prompting by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) color your story turquoise, I take Marnie one step closer to empowerment. Charli says that turquoise blue evokes trust and strength. I have also heard that it signifies protection, friendship and peace. What wonderful qualities to aspire to for Marnie, and for all women. Coincidentally, it is my favourite colour.
Here is my flash fiction response to Charli’s challenge, with a Marnie who has found a new inner strength and sense of peace, and recalls the trust that was given in friendship along with a charm for protection.
I hope you enjoy it.
Marnie paused at the gate. The house looked the same: roses by the steps, bell by the door, windows open and curtains tied back; just as she remembered.
She shuddered as the memory of her last visit flashed momentarily: she was running, almost blinded by tears, stumbling with fear, up the steps, to the open door and open heart. She rubbed the turquoise pendant Miss had given her then, for “protection and peace”. She had worn it always.
Now, Marnie walked the path with an unfamiliar lightness. It was over. Really over!
She knocked at the door.
Thank you for reading.
I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and flash fiction.