When the annual Walk for Women was disrupted this year, its student organisers saw an opportunity to introduce new initiatives and promote a deeper discussion about how our community can tackle inequality, sexism and misogyny. A podcast and Q&A session were added to the program.
Reflecting on why actions like this are so important, Year 10 student co-organiser Daniel Cash points to a continued need to ensure women’s interests are defended in every environment.
“As an all-boys senior school, it’s hugely important that we have awareness about these issues. It’s a question of human compassion.”Daniel Cash
For Year 12 student co-organiser TJ Bin Hitam-Keeffe, this awareness is also part of growing as a person. “At some stage, I knew that I had to do better,” he says. “I have to be brave enough to call people out for sexist or misogynistic behaviour.”
The Walk for Women has been a highlight of the Senior School calendar since 2009. Initially conceived by Melbourne Grammar School students, each year hundreds of students from government and independent schools gather on our South Yarra campus. They unite in a show of solidarity, demonstrating their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment by walking around the Tan track together.
“With COVID-19 restrictions returning after we had organised an in-person event, we had to change plans fast,” says TJ. “In the end, people walked the same distance in their own neighbourhood.”
Participants make a donation as part of their Walk registration and these funds are used to support organisations working to improve the situation for vulnerable women and girls.
This year the event raised funds for White Ribbon Australia, which works to eliminate gendered violence, alongside its traditional support for UN Women. “In the context of lockdowns, you can only imagine the unsafe situations some families find themselves in,” says TJ of the decision to fundraise for White Ribbon.
To encourage even greater reflection on issues like these, Daniel created a podcast for people to listen to as they walked. He interviewed four accomplished women in leadership roles – a Supreme Court Justice, a business leader and consultant, a medical executive, an academic and law reform researcher – on the topic of issues faced by women and how we can all work to create positive change.
“Usually we’re walking the Tan with female students from other schools, which is an opportunity for these discussions to happen,” Daniel explains. “The podcast meant we could still have those conversations in some form.”
As an additional action to support this year’s Walk, students organised a virtual Q&A titled: “Barriers faced by women in leadership positions, gender-based violence, consent and how schools are a part of the conversation”. Panellists included TJ, Senator Jane Hume, Greens candidate Celeste Liddle, Mentone Girls’ Grammar Principal Natalie Charles, and our own Headmaster Philip Grutzner. Chaired by Daniel Cash, the panel discussed a range of questions around systemic change, and the role of personal responsibility in creating this change.
“We wanted to give boys the tools to actually make a difference, and the Q&A was another part of learning how to do this,” TJ says. “I want students to look at these things as joint problems we can take on together, and to realise that as men, this is a time for us to be listening and recognising the stake we have in this discussion.”