This week, I interviewed the two co-leaders of Dr Challoner’s High School Feminist Society about what feminist societies do, the issues facing women today and the importance of trying to make a difference as student activists.
Anya and Sofia, both 18 year old students at DCHS, co-lead the DCHS FemSoc. The group is made up of young people anxious to make a change in the name of equality and carries out both educational and charitable campaigns in the school community. They say that the group’s main aims are to ”Educate and Empower’.
Despite being a just cause, it can be extremely challenging to lead a group focused on real-world issues while in formal education. However, Sofia is keen to point out that while FemSoc went through a re-brand to be more inclusive, DCHS were more than helpful to the society, Sofia tells me: ”The school were really supportive, and our year group were also really supportive, so supportive that we did a period poverty campaign in year 12, and that got a lot of traction”
Period poverty has been a central focus of DCHS FemSoc’s mission, and for good reason too. The term ‘period poverty’ is used to describe the situation in which women are unable to buy sanitary products due to financial constraints. In the UK alone, it is believed that over 137,700 children have missed school due to period poverty and a terrifying 1 in 10 girls under the age of 18 cannot afford to buy sanitary products.
The issue is not limited to financial concerns; it is widely known that a large part of the issue is the stigma surrounding periods, leaving young women afraid to ask for help when they need it.
The main way in which the FemSoc has been working on this huge issue is through pad collections, where the group appeals to members of the school community to bring in packs of pads to donate to the charity Binti.
Sofia tells me ”The first campaign we did we got 50 packs of pads, and that was just Year 12. The second one we did in Year 13 for International Women’s Week got 120 packs”
Anya goes on to say ‘‘We extended it to all of sixth form and Years 9-11, so it got rolled out to the wider school. We tried to do some education along with it, because… people associate it more as a developing nation issue, but although it is a more prevalent issue in developing nations, this is still a big issue that we can target and we can do something about in the UK.”
While tackling period poverty, the group also aims to act as an example to younger students interested in making a difference. Sofia says
”In a girls’ school, female role models and female empowerment should be present, it’s really important, especially for Years 7, 8 and 9 who aren’t really well-versed in political issues and what’s going on in the world. I think it’s really good for them to be made aware and see that they can become passionate about things they support.”
Sofia adds ”I personally think everyone should be a feminist, it’s about giving students education and informing them about certain issues so that they can become feminists on their own terms.”
Educating the younger members of the school community has been a focal point for the FemSoc. One way this was achieved was by organising a talk by children’s author and councillor for Southwark Lisa Rajan for Years 7 to 9. Rajan spoke about gender stereotypes in education, and the issue of women being in the minority throughout many STEM subjects.
Anya said that the younger people at school have been ”Very, very receptive. It’s been a very positive response… the people who come to the weekly meetings, quite a lot of them are lower school members and they are all quite interested and enthusiastic about it. They didn’t really know that much about issues but they were eager to learn.”
The issue of women having a minority voice in STEM fields has been in the spotlight for FemSoc. Sofia tells me
”There is an obvious imbalance in STEM subjects. That’s not because women aren’t being accepted into those roles, it’s because they haven’t been educated enough [in STEM fields] to want to pursue those. I think people like the government should inform young girls about STEM subjects like maths and sciences, so they can be the ones to choose their own paths and become candidates for important positions.”
Educating young people and taking a stand on period poverty, DCHS FemSoc appears to be a part of a wider trend of young people taking up arms to make real change in the world. Sofia cites the U.S based March for Our Lives movement as an inspiration for student-led political action, saying
‘‘All you have to do is look at the March for Our Lives – it was organised by students. The media portray it quite negatively, because we’re children, like what do we know? But I think spreading awareness and spreading education around these issues like [gender] equality are so important because they show that as young people we are aware.”
On student activism, Anya said ”I think young people don’t realise the power they have, especially with social media, you can be really influential…I know people think that we’re the snowflake generation; offended by everything, but sometimes it’s okay to be offended, because it means that you will go out there and do something about it, and what you’re doing is having a positive impact on yourself and others.”
Anya adds to this idea, saying
”You can’t end inequality in a day, but there are smaller things you can do to make the world a better place and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Youth-led protest movement’s like Greta Thunberg’s Friday’s for Future movement or Extinction Rebellion’s environmental campaigning are gaining traction all over the world. It looks as if despite the world seeming like an increasingly dark place, the youth of today are mobilizing, and groups like DCHS FemSoc are showing themselves to be greater leaders than any government.