In this series, Aspire explores interesting women doing interesting work across the world.
Who: Edie Jones, a 17-year-old student from the U.K.
What: At age 14, Jones started a petition: “A In Equality” to include feminism in the Personal, Social, Health and Economic Studies curriculum in all U.K. schools.
Where: “I took the petition to my local Member of Parliament. He was incredibly supportive of the campaign and it was really amazing to have that connection. He took it to the Secretary of State for children. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State for children’s response was non committal. He believed that feminism is already explored in the curriculum’s section of relationships – in the section where it talks about how we have to treat each other equally. But this is not what I want. I believe that feminism needs to be addressed head on and needs to be addressed as a complete subject not as a part of relationships.” Jones is forging ahead, hoping to gain more support from others for the campaign and is pressuring the Secretary to take another look.
When: “The moment I realised we needed feminism on the curriculum was when I was having an argument with my friend’s brother at the bus stop. He told me we didn’t need feminist societies in schools because ‘feminists were dungaree wearing man haters.’ It became clear to me – in that instant – that if we want people to be more engaged in the fight for gender equality, we have to begin by educating young people. This education starts with the fundamental definition of what feminism actually is. I have a big problem with the stigmas around feminism. I believe it is caused by the misconception of the actual definition of that word. A lot of people think it means women domination. This is why it’s really important that people understand that the definition of feminism which is really interchangeable with the words gender equality. That is one of the reasons why it needs to be taught in Britain’s schools.”
Why: “We had a feminist society in my secondary school. I suddenly started realising there was sexism present throughout primary and secondary school, but it went unnoticed. It’s the small things that are not seen yet are so common. For example, my twin and I were the only girls on the football team because a lot of girls didn’t feel welcome. Even the fact that boys and girls do different [types of] sports. There are actually sports you couldn’t do because of your gender. I have friends in mixed [gender] schools who for a long time didn’t feel like they could put up their hand so much because they didn’t want to be distracting for boys.”
How: “Change that is permanent has to start with education in schools because in those classrooms are the future leaders, the future CEOS, the future bosses, who with an understanding of feminism will be able to change the way that they respond to other people and the way they are themselves. Imagine if every leader had an understanding of feminism, meaning they would have to treat everyone equally and they would expect to be treated equally. There could be a very big positive effect on people.”
Facing the Opposition: “I did a radio interview and a man responded: ‘Feminism is Nazism.’ This response shows how important it is that feminism be put on the curriculum. Feminism is gender equality. Therefore, if you know the definition of feminism, you couldn’t say gender equality is as bad as Nazism. The basic understanding of what the word feminism means can really affect people’s response to feminism. There’s definitely a stigma around the word feminism. Therefore, it’s really important that the stigma is cleared by simply teaching people to understand what feminism is. I don’t believe this man could have said what he did if he had learned about feminism at school.”
Biggest challenge: “Social media can have quite a negative effect. We see so much every day under the name of feminism that actually isn’t feminism at all. We often don’t question what we see on social media. Feminism is a conversation that everyone needs to be involved with. It’s really important that people understand that feminism affects every single person no matter their gender, no matter their background, no matter where they live, no matter their religion. That is something not quite understood at present.”
Vision for the future curriculum: “It would be amazing if, for example, in an all boys school they learned about FGM [female genital mutilation] or they learned how harmful stereotypes or words, like catcalling, can affect women. Sexism is so common around us. It’s important that feminism is included in the basic understanding of what’s going on around us.
As soon as you start to talk about feminism, you start to think about the stuff that’s going on around you and that is when you start to not accept that stuff you didn’t even realise was happening. I want people to know about the ongoing battle against sexism nationally and internationally. I want people to be able to debate and discuss. This requires more than just a small section in the study of relationships.”
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