What's changed for girls in school. And what hasn't

Last Tuesday, at about 4.15pm, I left Eastern High School in Cardiff, feeling properly invigorated. Thanks to Eastern Chatter, a Full Circle initiative, I got to chat to a dozen or so girls of High School age, and I was blown away by their insight, experiences and bravery. 

I am currently working as Local Engagement Specialist for Melanie Wilson and Fuel Theatre, who are bringing Opera to the Unknown Woman to Wales Millennium Centre in June, as part of Festival of Voice. I honestly had no idea when I started this project that it would take me to such interesting groups. 

The opera challenges the audiences to consider a number of themes and issues; from climate change, to gender equality. The opera is a call to action. It challenges the roles of women in traditional opera, by bringing together an all-female cast, and an almost all-female creative team. 

I became aware of the Eastern Chatter project when I was working at the Sherman Theatre, through Sherman 5. The Sherman 5 project has introduced these girls to theatre and to critical writing. Eastern Chatter is a magazine, written and curated by a group of girls within Eastern High School, and is distributed across East Cardiff. 

I went along to talk to them about the themes in the opera, with no idea really of what would be of interest to them. I was instantly welcomed, which was a relief to me. I find talking to teenagers really intimidating, but the Eastern Chatter chaps were very friendly and accommodating. Instantly, chatting about the lack of gender equality in opera caught their attention. We then had an hour long chat about their experiences, wishes for the future and action that they can and are taking. 

I found it terribly sad that these girls still felt marginalised for 'trying hard', for being interested in current affairs, for being smart. It showed me that so little hard changed in the <ahem> number of years since I had been in High School. These girls were still being made to feel like their worth lay in their appearance and popularity. They themselves had written about the danger of photo-shopping in the media in their own magazine. 

But what was so so encouraging, was their recognition that this wasn't right. And that they had a right to equality at school, in the workplace, and in their futures. Gender equality is on their radars, and they are challenging this within their school and their wider world. They are proud of their individualism and are proud of each other, which is so wonderful to see. 

I'm so pleased that Opera for the Unknown Woman gave me the opportunity to meet this group. Its invigorated me greatly and given me hope that seeing the production might inspire these girls even further. I hope that they continue to use their voices and platforms to encourage change. Because thats what the Unknown Woman is about. A group of women, all with different views and experiences, coming together to create change.

I'm really keen to hear what the community has to say about gender equality in opera, in theatre and in the wider world. So please comment!

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