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Caroline Criado-Perez on Inspirational Women

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British feminist, activist and writer, Caroline Criado-Perez warns that girls ‘can’t be what they can’t see’.

On Thursday 2 May the all-new Blackheath High School GDST opened the doors of its £18 million redevelopment. Along with parents, teachers, alumnae and students was a star-studded line-up of speakers. Among them was prominent women’s rights campaigner and writer, Caroline Criado-Perez, who was the driving force behind successful campaigns to get Jane Austen on the £10 note in 2017 and a statue of Millicent Fawcett erected in Parliament Square in 2018.

Caroline Criado-Perez speaking at Blackheath High School GDST’s grand opening

At the Blackheath High event, Criado-Perez delivered a rousing speech on the need to give women the freedom and power to truly flourish. Channelling Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she began her speech touching on how we live in a world that too often restricts women, saying: ‘The way for women to escape the straight jacket society puts them in isn’t to denigrate them, but to raise them up. Because when you denigrate one woman,’ she continued, ‘especially in a way that echoes the demeaning stereotypes that have been ascribed to us for centuries, you denigrate us all and denigrate yourself. But when women stand together, we’re unstoppable.’

Warning that girls ‘can’t be what they can’t see’, the campaigner pointed out the astonishing statistic that according to the Public Monuments and Sculpture Database, there are more statues of men called ‘John’ than of female historical figures. 

Acknowledging that Blackheath High was very different to the school she grew up in, Criado-Perez praised the school for ignoring gender stereotypes: ‘With girls here doing ballet, football, science and art – they are taught that the glass ceiling may exist but it is there to be smashed.’

Attendees congregated in the courtyard at the heart of the school, which features a mini Louvre

Joining Caroline and Carol was GDST CEO Cheryl Giovannoni, who officially opened the new school by illuminating ‘Take Flight’ – an art installation, created by the students and the school’s Artist in Residence and Art Teacher, Imogen Gilbert. The symbol of a bird was chosen as one of freedom and possibilities, working both individually and as a collective. The flock of birds represents the students launching out into the world and flying high.

‘Take Flight’

Among the new facilities unveiled were a brand-new library and resources centre; specialist teaching environments for Art, Design & Technology and Music; cutting-edge Mac suite; the wellbeing Sedum roof garden for girls to relax and enjoy; and ‘The Pod’, a contemplation space for meditation and idea generation. 

Head at Blackheath High School GDST, Carol Chandler-Thompson delivered the final speech: ‘These new amazing facilities are going to provide our girls with the very best learning environment for them to grow and become leaders of the future. It was only fitting that an unstoppable woman like Caroline was here to deliver a keynote speech that will inspire our girls to really make the most of these wonderful new surroundings.’

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