8 March 2024

International Women’s Day 2024

To mark International Women’s Day 2024, our Laureate, Hester has written an evocative piece Ancestors.


When she walks to school on her own every day, she isn’t really by herself. She’s got a whole host of women behind her, a host of female ancestors. Making her way with a quiet click on the icy pavement is her great-grandmother, an intelligence officer during the war who wasted away after that whilst her husband could do all kinds of work. On her other side is her great-aunt, who was capable of studying at Oxford like her brother, but never reached her full potential. With a heavy school bag on her back, she carries these women with her, and the others, who didn’t get to go to school at all.

Even though the timid spring sun has melted much of the frost around her, the air is crisp and cold, and the fog is still yet to be lifted as she walks through the school gates. Like the sensation of stepping into a hot bath, she is overwhelmed by how lucky she is – to live not 100 years earlier when her higher education would have a question mark over it, when another great-grandmother of hers was unusual in going to university to study mathematics. She feels lucky because right now she isn’t living in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Chad, Liberia, or Ethiopia, where her education would be a much harder question. And it’s sad, she thinks, that she should have to feel lucky at all about this. So, she walks out of the fog and into the school.

Hester, St Helen and St Katharine Laureate 2023-24

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