Let Girls Lead panel, San Francisco, CA, November 19, 2013.

Girls education, and investing in that girl’s life not only transforms the life of that girl but of her community, and her country as well.  ~Dr. Denise Dunning, Executive Director of Let Girls Lead

On November 19, 2013, the International Museum of Women hosted a panel called “Let Girls Lead” in San Francisco, California. Let Girls Lead is a not-for-profit organization that ‚Äúempowers girls and their allies to lead social change through advocacy, education, economic empowerment, storytelling, and strategic partnerships.‚Äù

The panel was made up of three inspirational women: Executive Director of Let Girls Lead Dr. Denise Dunning; co-chair of the Teen Advisory Board for Girl Up Riya Singh; and Executive Director of New Field Foundation Sarah Hobson, and moderated by International Museum of Women Executive Director Clare Winterton. The panel discussed some of the issues facing girls today, around the world and in America. Besides issues concerns like fair access to education and work opportunities, Dr. Dunning pointed out that a lot of girls around the world are grappling with very basic issues of safety and security.

This panel also included a screening of the trailer for the film ¡PODER!, a documentary about two adolescent Mayan girls in Guatemala who are advocating for the rights of girl’s in their own community. The film will be released worldwide this coming March for International Women’s Day 2014.

Questions were raised regarding the danger of alienating boys with the “girl power” idea. Sarah Hobson shared that it was was important that when,

providing resources, making it clear that those resources are not to exclude boys or men, they are actually to benefit the family and the community, and actually we’ve seen this huge shift among many men and elders and community leaders who have begun to appreciate the creativity and the initiatives that the women are taking. As they have more leadership, as they have more resources, as children go to school more it’s like actually they become more valued. But it takes time, it takes several years.

Another question was brought up about the controversy around empowering girls, this time a reference to an article by Kavita Ramdas that questioned the rationale behind empowering girls rather than empowering women, because girls, according to the article, are seen as less threatening than women with their own developed sexuality and reproductive rights issues. The panel members countered that it is “messy” to deal with girls’ issues as well, because these issues also apply to girls, even little girls. Dr. Dunning brought up the fact that in Malawi, Girl Up has encountered 9 year-old girls married to 40 year-old men and that these girls could be dead in childbirth at age 11. Sarah Hobson noted that girls that are uneducated about these issues grow up to be uneducated women.

Riya Singh advises girls that are looking to have an impact on social change and step into leadership roles that “you can empower yourself. Empowerment is the first thing…Finding someone, a teacher, a community leader, to guide you is important, but also recognizing that you can do it yourself.” Singh also shared that girls can go to GirlUp.org to start a GirlUP club at their own school, and that girls can empower themselves by using Let Girls Lead as a platform to share their own story with other girls.

Feeling empowered? What will you do to empower girls everywhere, in your community, or even yourself?
You can access a video of the panel here.

-Emily Holm
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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