Igniting Girls’ Potential through Girl-Centred Design

Have you ever come across a community program, university course or advertisement and thought it could have used a bit more insight from the very people it aims to target?

I have, and that is why I have been admirer the work of GirlSPARKS for a while now. So you can imagine my excitement when I was recently asked to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador on their behalf! I already consider myself a lifelong advocate for the recognition and inclusion of girls in all aspects of my personal and professional life. And the GirlSPARKS tools have helped me do that in a better-informed way.

You may be wondering, what is GirlSPARKS?

It’s a global training initiative working with organizations and individuals to deliver more effective programming for adolescent girls through an experiential and tailored Girl-Centred Design approach.

Now you may be thinking, why girls specifically? Well, unfortunately:

  • Globally, 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence in their lifetime
  • An estimated 650 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday
  • 131 million girls around the world remain out of school

Girls across the globe face barriers when it comes to equity and inclusion in so many areas of life. But when these rights are invested in, there are benefits not just for girls but their larger communities as well. The evidence around the value of investing in girls continues to grow. However, a disconnect persists between this evidence and the ability of practitioners to identify marginalized girls, prioritize their needs in the design process, and engage them over time and at scale.

This disconnect is where GirlSPARKS steps in. Their Girl-Centred Design approach provides the skills, knowledge, and tools for practitioners to place adolescent girls at the center of program design and implementation. The method consists of three core modules:

Find Her: Finding the most marginalized girls through data collection tools

Listen to Her: Bringing girls into the center of program design through girl consultations and safe spaces

Design with Her: Tailoring the design approach to meet adolescent girls’ unique needs through learnings from previous modules

While organizations or other entities may think they know what girls need or want, I value the GirlSPARKS approach because it centres around girls’ actual thoughts, actions, and insight. And their input is vital when trying to sustainably and genuinely empower them through any method. Instead of creating for girls, GirlSPARKS helps you to understand how to create with girls.

GirlSPARKS offers training on Girl-Centred Design through in-person workshops and a free online introductory course. Through the broader GirlSPARKS community, practitioners can connect and share resources.

I began my girls’ advocacy journey through personal connection and informal advocacy networks. The introductory Girl-Centred Design course has allowed me to expand my technical training around advocacy. I have been able to apply the Girl-Centred Design approach to all aspects of my work – even if the population I am working with isn’t all girls.

It is essential to continue to expand our understanding of concepts, perspectives and approaches when it comes to advocacy and people-centred work of all kinds. GirlSPARKS provides an engaging environment and resources to initiate that expansion. Be sure to check out their website and social media to stay updated on all the resources they offer!

The Power of Your Story: a Guide for Advocates

To kick off the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada, Girls’ Globe & Say It Forward co-hosted The Power of Your Story: a Guide for Advocates. Our interactive session brought together advocates and storytellers from around the world to demonstrate just how powerful stories can be.

https://twitter.com/SayItForwardNow/status/1135225607908802560


To begin – a panel, moderated by Girls’ Globe blogger Sanne Thijssen. We heard moving personal stories from Alaa Al-Eryani, who talked about her experience of marriage and divorce as a young woman in Yemen, and from Paula Espinosa Valarezo, who described herself as a ‘legacy advocate’ thanks to the powerful women who came before her.

https://twitter.com/juliasglobe/status/1135312675804766209


Blessing Timidi, an SRHR advocate from Nigeria, took to the stage to explain how her story influences and strengthens her advoacy. She told us: “your story is never stagnant. Stories evolve all the time.”

https://twitter.com/SharonDAgostino/status/1135325529664565249


Julia Wiklander, Girls’ Globe’s Founder & President reminded us why it is so important to share your story, and went on to share her advice on building the confidence you need to do so.

https://twitter.com/SanneThijssen_/status/1135318147517599745


Next up were some practical tips from Girls’ Globe Editor-in-Chief Eleanor on writing your story down. Here are her top 5:

– Keep your inner critic in check
– Choose your publishing platform wisely
– Keep a journal
– Be personal
– Read as much and as widely as you can

https://twitter.com/GirlsGlobe/status/1135323969819676673


Finally, Emmy Award winning filmmaker Elisa Gambino shared loads of advice for filming your story:

1. Hold your phone steady
2. Decide if you want to look directly at the camera
3. Don’t fight the light
4. Invest in a small microphone
5. Don’t give too much or too little headspace

https://twitter.com/SharonDAgostino/status/1135327843485933570


Strengthening the ways you communicate your vision, skills and experiences can inspire others to invest in your work locally, nationally or internationally. Your personal narrative can be as compelling as your advocacy message.

Your power is in your story.

Join the conversation with #ThePowerOfYourStory.

Take to the Streets & Demand your Rights

“When women work together, it’s a bond unlike any other.”
– Victoria Principal

At times when change is needed in society, the streets become more important than ever. When our minds are full of fear or worry, and when a problem is right there but no one will look directly at it – action needs to be taken. When it seems no one will raise their voice and insecurity becomes part of daily life, we start to understand the importance of the streets as more than just roads.

For people who agree that public problems are political matters, streets can be the best places to express ideas.

Great movements have been made from the streets. They give space to everyone; a person, two more, and a bunch of groups of people. People pay attention to those brave enough to speak, out loud and in public, for what they believe in.

If everyone stayed at home, sick and tired of discrimination, then nothing would ever get better. But when you find people who share your desire for freedom and equal rights, then nothing can stop you.

Our global history has been shaped by those who have taken to the streets to demand their needs and rights.

The world wouldn’t be the same if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t occupied public space. If women hadn’t gone out to march for their right to vote, society wouldn’t be the same today.

Women have long tried to empower themselves by exposing inequality, even when the system seems almost totally against them. Today, women, and some great men (with hopefully many more to come), are fighting the patriarchal systems that oppress women and restrict men.

Women continue to claim the streets as places to raise our voices and express ourselves.

It is on the streets that we can make the violence, persecution and oppression facing women visible. In public spaces we can demand what we deserve: rights and equal recognition of our role in society. Because women matter.

Peaceful protest is part of our right to free expression. It is a right that hasn’t always been enjoyed by all women around the world, and continues to be denied to many.

If you are able to raise your voice – my advice is to do it! Meet with your friends in public places, speak up about street harassment, open up space where women can feel safe to speak. Go ahead and give feminism what it needs – your voice.

We need to remember the importance of public space for activism.

Our streets hold great power and potential for social organization. Women can achieve monumental changes. And we should keep trying to do so, because the fight of some should be the fight of all.

In Conversation with Beverly Nkirote Mutwiri

Beverly Nkirote Mutwiri is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Kenya. She speaks to Girls’ Globe about the challenges she has encountered as a young woman in a patriarchal society.

“In many SRHR spaces we have male dominancy, and at times it can be very intimidating, especially to a young woman.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our interviews with KingaWinfredScarlett, Natasha and Tasneem, too!

All Teachers Need Mandatory Training on FGM

Written by Katrina Lambert (18) and Caitlin Moore (18) – Youth For Change UK members

Ever felt like decision makers aren’t listening to young people? That our voices are ignored and belittled in society? We certainly do sometimes. And we’ve decided to make some noise about it.

We are members of Youth for Change, a global network of youth activists who aim to tackle gender-based violence.

The best way to create positive change is through young people working together to make a difference. We are the ones affected – we should be the ones influencing policy.

Over the last few years we have been tackling the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is a form of violence against girls. It can result in a lifetime of pain, psychological problems and difficulty in childbirth.

Around 125 million girls have been cut worldwide. An estimated 137,000 girls and women live with FGM in the UK.

In 2017, our research found that 90% of young people surveyed said that learning about FGM as part of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would help to protect and empower them and their peers. This was the focus of our campaign to get FGM in the RSE curriculum.

Therefore, we were incredibly excited when it was announced that Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would be compulsory in every school in England as of 2020. Education plays an absolutely crucial role in young people’s lives (as two school students, we can verify this 100%).

Having FGM taught in schools is our chance to take a step forward in ending this harmful practice.

At Youth for Change, when the Department for Education released the online curriculum consultations, we engaged with our networks and communities to strengthen the voice advocating for FGM to be included.

We fed this back to the Department for Education when a group of us met with senior civil servants last year. We also met with Carolyn Harris MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, to discuss the importance of empowering young people through educating them on FGM.

As a result, questions about FGM being a priority area of the new curriculum were raised in Parliamentary Questions, to the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP.

In February 2019, it was celebrations all round. We heard that FGM was to be included as a topic in the curriculum. However, as tempting as it may be, we can’t stop now and pat ourselves on the back.

Yes, we have taken a monumental step in the direction towards eradicating FGM. However, in order to ensure that the new curriculum can appropriately educate and empower young people on the issue, teachers must feel equipped.

This is why Youth for Change is calling for mandatory training for all teachers on FGM.

Our research shows that 94% of young people feel school staff don’t know enough about FGM. If there is any chance of the the new curriculum guidance achieving its fullest positive impact, teachers must be trained.

When students are aware of the issue and feel confident that their teachers understand it, then they will naturally feel more protected and comfortable in opening up conversations. This is essential in increasing reporting and saving the lives of thousands of young women and girls across the UK.

Mandatory training for teachers will ensure that every pupil in the UK gets equal access to the FGM education they deserve, regardless of what part of the country they happen to be educated in.

The benefits of training teachers in FGM are not limited to students. It will also empower teachers to feel equipped to take on their role.

In fully understanding their legal responsibilities, including mandatory reporting, teachers will able to confidently safeguard their students and signpost the correct support. Training is absolutely essential. Without it, the huge changes to the curriculum will not be able to support and educate young people.

What can you do?

Get involved with us as we continue to press for standardised, mandatory training for teachers on FGM! Find us on twitter @YouthForChange. And while you’re here, support all of the other amazing activists in our network, such as IKWRO, who are calling for FGM to be tackled earlier on in education.

We’re not going to stop making noise. We need to ensure that the education young people receive reflects what they want and need to learn. We very much hope that the Government will listen to our calls to introduce mandatory training. Together, we can move even closer to eradicating FGM in the UK once and for all.

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On Her Shoulders: A Call to Stand with Survivors

I have just finished reading reviews of ‘On Her Shoulders’, Alexandria Brombach’s documentary on Nadia Murad, the human rights activist who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

From the New York Times to RobertEbert.Com, the almost exclusively male reviewers gave halfhearted write-ups on a movie so powerful that I felt anxiety in my chest while watching. The reviewers, shying away from challenging the culture around sexual assault, took the movie on its surface, commended Nadia’s bravery and quietly moved on.

But if we quietly move on – as our culture suggests when it comes to the rights and dignity of women and girls – we’re missing an opportunity to question our response to sexual assault. We’re missing an opportunity to better support survivors. And we’re missing an opportunity to resist the subtle misogyny that inspires a “three thumbs up review” of a movie that dares questions how we treat survivors of sexual violence.       

Nadia Murad is a young Yazidi activist who is known as a survivor of sexual violence in conflict.

Growing up, she dreamed of being a make-up artist. She never wanted to leave Iraq. Never wanted to be an activist, never desired the public light.

Then ISIS, targeting the Yazidi minority, came to her village. They killed Nadia’s family, destroyed her community, and abducted, tortured and trafficked her until she narrowly escaped.

But ‘On Her Shoulders’ does not highlight Nadia’s background. Instead, it reveals that Nadia is telling a story that she does not want to tell.

Part of her reluctance is reliving the terror, and the other is dealing with a media that is more concerned with her rape than her advocacy.

She answers questions that distract from ending sexual violence in favor of focusing on the act of sexual violence itself. Her goal is to prevent such atrocities, and yet she is asked about the details of the abuse of her body.

Even in the midst of #MeToo, sexual assault is still seen as a sexual act rather than an act of power and control. The objectification of women is a deeply rooted cultural norm. So when we encounter a survivor of such extreme violence that no one dares justify it, the media defaults to the pornographic interest around the act.  

Nadia knows this. Yet she answers these deeply personal and objectifying questions because she recognizes that any attention, however misdirected, provides the opportunity for advocacy. She survived the assault of ISIS, and now she is surviving repeated retelling in pursuit of justice and prevention.

How can we, as individuals living in a culture that still objectifies female bodies, better support survivors and resist the framing of sexual assault as desirable, justifiable or entertaining?       

We need to change how we receive the stories of survivors.

We need to believe them, and we need to focus on what they want us to know, not on what our voyeuristic society wants to know. We need to shift from the male gaze to the human gaze, where we see survivors as individuals with dignity and not as a victims whose assault exists to incite our imaginations.  

Nadia, as such a public figure, is giving us the opportunity to do this. We can stand with her by reading her book, watching ‘On Her Shoulders’ and supporting Nadia’s Initiative, which advocates for victims of sexual violence and works to rebuild communities in crisis.

We can support all survivors by speaking out against any framing of assault as desirable. I will walk out of movie theaters when rape is sexualized, and I will not cast a vote for anyone – man or woman – who perpetuates this culture of victim blaming. We can question and disagree and create change within our own families and communities. And, of course, we do not need to swallow “three thumbs up” reviews of topics about the dignity of our bodies.

I’m fighting – and writing – back.  

Nadia is battle-weary, but still she soldiers on. ‘On Her Shoulders’ reveals the burden of her fight and challenges us to support her, and all survivors who have become reluctant heroines for our sake. She may not be the last girl to survive sexual assault, but if we raise our voices together she could very well be the last girl to speak out alone.