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Head Master's Lecture: Rebecca Hilsenrath
5th April 2017

Rebecca Hilsenrath: This Girl Can

Lancing College was delighted to welcome Rebecca Hilsenrath to deliver the Head Master’s Lecture on 9 March 2017 – the day after International Women’s Day. Her talk, This Girl Can, looked at what discrimination looks like in the Britain of 2017.

Rebecca studied Classics and then Law at Cambridge, went on to work in the City at Linklaters before taking a career break to care for her children. During this time she chaired the Governing Body of several schools and established a Primary and then a Secondary school. She returned to work in the Government Legal Service, where she held roles in the Department for Education and Skills and in the Attorney General’s Office. In 2009 she set up the National Pro Bono Centre in Chancery Lane. Rebecca was appointed Chief Legal Officer to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in March 2014 and became CEO in 2015.

It was with an analogy to walking that Rebecca started her talk, with the notion of human rights in Britain as having come a long way, but with new summits now coming into view which would require arduous but important climbing. She urged her audience to continue the climb - rather than returning to a metaphorical sofa for cups of tea and packets of crisps – and to reap the rewards of the vistas which would then be opened up. 

Mrs Krause writes in review: As CEO of the Human Rights and Equalities Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath’s talk focused on the very real disadvantages and discrimination still present in today’s society. Rebecca took the opportunity to explore the broad scope of the role of the commission whilst also paying particular attention to three key areas; gender, disability and race. At the beginning of her lecture Rebecca reminded the audience of the very strong equality and human rights legal framework in Britain. She was also clear that discrimination and violations of basic rights and freedoms are still very live in Britain. It was disheartening to hear that the Commission has observed a backward trend in areas of equality since 2013, and there were some shocking statistics shared as well as some pointers towards progress. Rebecca’s lecture served as a timely and apt reminder that ‘navel gazing’, solely focussing on personal experiences and agendas, will not serve humankind. With the backdrop both of Brexit and of International Women’s Day, the message was clear: not acting would only serve to damage equality and human rights in Britain.

Rebecca spoke with optimism about the benefits of diversity and about the necessity of awareness of hidden as well as overt discrimination. She considered the framework of legislation put in place over an 80-year period and the strong foundation that this gives Britain for the promotion of equality and the protection of human rights. 

She spoke to an audience composed of pupils of all ages, parents and staff, and her talk gave rise to many questions and lively debates.