Students at Duval High School are taking gender equality seriously.
School captains Dylan Ramsay and Izzy Winter started a pledge to empower and respect all – and they’ve found attitudes in the school are changing.
“It’s been really important to us; it’s made us angry and passionate, and driven us towards wanting to be better people,” Izzy said.
“While we've tried to empower others,” Dylan agreed, “we’ve learnt ourselves along the way.”
A lot of teenagers, they found, didn’t use respectful language, or weren't kind to others.
“We decided to target the younger years,” Dylan said. “We thought they needed a little something.”
Their inspiration was UN Women's solidarity movement He For She: Stand Together, which encourages men and boys to work with women to achieve gender equality.
The Year 12 prefect group had chosen it as one of two charities at the end of last year that all their fundraising would go towards.
“We wanted the pledge to be specific to our charity,” Izzy said, “but we realised we should target other groups while we're at it.
“It's not just about women, but about our whole community. It was about empowering all types of people, no matter where you come from, what your beliefs are, or what gender you are. We all have our unique traits, and we should all respect each other.”
The two school captains went around to every classroom, and introduced the pledge to empower all and use respectful language. If they signed it, students would have to honour their pledge.
“We got almost everybody to sign the pledge, which is a good start,” Dylan said.
“There’s been a lot more conversation in our school around gender equality,” Izzy said, “and how we can all change our ways to better it.”
Teachers have talked about gender equality in assemblies, and discussed it with younger students in classrooms.
Year 11 girls came onboard, and helped the prefects get the message across, while Year 10 girls made a video about women in sport. The prefects held a mufti day where students wore denim to raise awareness of sexual harassment of women, and a bake sale to raise money for He for She.
"All our profits," Izzy said, "go to the charity overseas. Hopefully that will either go towards the education of girls overseas, or politics.”
Former My Kitchen Rules contestants Tresne Middleton and Carly Saunders (The Happiness Mission) gave seminars about increasing resilience and emotional intelligence, and encouraged girls to change how they were perceived.
"We definitely accept that men and women are different,” Dylan said, “but there's no reason to believe that one is superior to the other. That's what we want to kill off straightaway, because we know women and men both do excellent things.
“Right now, it's real; it's evident that there is an oppression of women in certain workplaces, in sport, in the way we talk about women – and that's what we want to get rid of. We've moved a long way, but it's a long way to go."
Next year, Duval High will merge with the Armidale High School to form Armidale Secondary College.
“What we want to leave behind is something that can be carried on by future prefects and school leaders,” Izzy said. "We want people to carry through the message that if you're a girl, you can do anything; if you're a boy, you can do anything. There's nothing that can ever stop you from carrying on with your dreams.”
“That's why we put it up, and put it up proudly,” Dylan said. “We know the leadership group next year will be led by some good kids, so hopefully they can carry on with some of our values. It's definitely bigger picture for us; it's not a one year thing.”