By: Olivia (Lily) Campbell-Lamerton
The more she knows, the more power she has. The more power she has, the more she can control. The more she can control, the more she becomes the master of her own fate and of the fates of others less fortunate than her. Education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women. Education is power. I describe my life as a woman going through education in the UK, the experiences therein, and how women can become empowered through educating themselves.
Not only is education a human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, girls’ education is a strategic development investment. Educated women have the chance of being healthier and happier – as well as creating benefits for society as a whole. An educated woman has the skills, information and self-confidence that she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen. Not to mention that education can empower her with the confidence and skill-set to be able to tackle discriminatory and ethical issues. The Girls Education work stream of The World Bank opines it is crucial to ensure that the nearly 4 billion girls and women around the world have the same chances to receive an education as boys and men.
The ticket to knowledge is first and foremost to be schooled. But, where to go?; How to do it?; And what obstacles are there for a woman in education? At 13, I went to an all-girls school, after which I went back into co-education (boys and girls) for my university studies at Bristol, and finally studied for my masters at Oxford University. Today, in the UK, single sex schools are not always established because of religious beliefs or cultural customs. It is often to guarantee better grades and a stable environment in which to be educated during the vital years of development. Generally, I found life at an all-girls school a perfect environment to flourish and develop, without the distraction, pressure, and seductive trap boys can create. We had 300 girls in the school with over 95% female staff. Our good grades and sororal relations with our peer group gave us the confidence to take pride in our appearance. We all cared about our appearance, without the need for excessive vanity. In sixth form, when wearing a uniform was no longer required we all planned our outfits days in advance. Women’s fashion should never be mixed up with it being women wanting to appease men – but that is a subject for a whole different article. There were no men in our worlds, yet we still wanted to roll up our skirts because a girl’s confidence stems from the way she appears in public, no matter who the audience is. It allowed us to be confident, and express ourselves in ways without being judged by boys. We were allowed to grow and learn without being burdened by pressures to wear makeup, to care about how we were to be perceived by boys or oppressed by their sexist attitudes. The number of unethical activities was tremendously low compared to figures from co-education schools. We learnt the true value of the wonder of women was and created a wonderful women sorority.
The focus was on achieving high grades to give us the highest possible launchpad into life. Results back this up, recent results from the UK show that girls at all-girls schools obtain more A’s and A*’s in their GCSEs than girls at mixed schools. In 2016, girl schools in London achieved an average 12 percentage points higher than co-education schools.
Moving on to university education, the opportunities available for girls and boys were never-ending, and not at any point did I feel at Bristol that my sex was limiting my capabilities and options. Lectures and classes were mixed; and there was a mixture of both male and female lecturers. There were societies promoting equality who helped to guarantee equal rights were reflected in the roots of the university. Although I was one of 10 girls in my class of 50, there are actually over 80,000 more girls completing UCAS applications to universities than boys.
After completing my undergraduate studies at Bristol, I went to Oxford to study for my masters. It is interesting to note here that women were only allowed to become members of Oxford University in 1920 – before that it was men only. The last college to accept both sexes converted from their male-only status in 2008 (the few colleges who remained as male-only were the religious colleges). Even though the university has had to conform to the modern trends of equality, there are delicate hints that are often hard to identify, change, and overturn. Oxford University is a garment whose thread is interwoven in male-only clubs and ladies-forbidden clubs which chime with the 18th century. But despite these sexist tones which some argue are traditions that build part of Oxford’s identity, there are opportunities that can catapult a woman into the path she wants to travel. All lectures and libraries are available to everyone. All sports can be played by women. All societies are open to women.
With the remarkable progress that has been made toward achieving gender equality in education in the western world, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Not to mention the huge room for inroads in the developing countries. What do you want your legacy to be? Read more, learn more, and broaden your knowledge. And then ask yourself again. And you’ll be that one step closer to creating one, and creating change for others.