See Our Stories

The Power of Female Community

Posted by Lilli Schussler Jul 7, 2014 , , , , , , , , ,

This is the second installment in a six-post series about SWSG’s model and impact. In light of 10 years of strong work, this series shows the impact of SWSG’s model and connects it to current events and research about girls and women today.

Recent studies have brought to light that girls’ self esteem peaks at the age of nine, and is likely to never return. An epidemic in our society, one that I would even deem a public health issue, is finally being discussed in broader terms; usually with calls to action to help our girls and women feel “empowered.” Program after program has been created to address the issue of our silenced, doubtful girls and women.

Let me emphasize: these programs are crucial. Every girl should have access to programs that allow them to develop as effective, confident leaders and citizens. We have to put girls in spaces that will nurture and cultivate their ambitions, and these programs can do just that.

But we’re missing an entire group of girls in the process – the strong girls we already have. The strong girls that have yet to allow the media and other pervasive institutions to get the best of them. The strong girls that are not afraid to SHOUT OUT LOUD.

Strong Women, Strong Girls is an organization diving headfirst into the preventative work that needs to be done to eradicate the ambition gap plaguing our girls.

According to Google, “ambition” is defined as “a strong desire to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.” At first glance, to say that we need to “eradicate the ambition gap” in our girls seems presumptuous – who are you to say that our girls don’t want to achieve something, that they don’t know how to work hard?

Fair question.

I don’t know every girl in the world, but what I do know is this: young girls are determined, hard workers that can achieve anything they want; it is the current structure of our society that severely hinders their ability to believe this after the age of nine.

SWSG’s programming provides a space for low-income girls, who are marginalized from the start, to come together among their peers to become mentors to one another under the supervision of college mentors and consciously planned interventions to address the ambition gap.

Typically, mentoring programs tout the impact that mentors have on their mentee. SWSG is similar, but by engaging with girls before they have experienced blatant sexism, racism, classism, ableism, etc., it is more likely that the mentors become empowered by the girls.

What does this mutual empowerment relationship accomplish? For starters, the young women in mentoring positions build a network of female peers – hugely important for women who have already experienced the horrors of middle school and high school and the issues that are associated with “girl-on-girl hate” and gossip. For the college-aged women, something incredible happens when you put them in a room with like-minded women: mutual empowerment.

Connect a young woman with a young girl and you’ll see her remember the strong girl that she barely remembers. Create a bond between the young woman and the young girl and you’ll see her attribute those old qualities to her current identity. A strong woman has been reborn.

As stated by one mentor, “[Tabriya] taught me there would be moments in life when I wavered in my personal level of confidence, but the biggest lesson I gained was to never let that stop me from finding success and to use those moments of uncertainty to inspire others.”

SWSG even takes this idea a step further by providing the college women with professional women to engage in a second mentoring relationship to further their own professional development. As the professional women give back to the college women, our girls reap the benefits, too. That’s mutual empowerment – and it starts with addressing the need for a strong female community.

Strong women make for strong girls. And strong girls make for stronger families, stronger communities, stronger companies, stronger leaders, stronger ideas, and stronger solutions.

Emily Kindschy is the SWSG Research and Development intern. She is a 2014 graduate of Lesley University and MSW candidate. She hopes to use her background and future education to improve the lives of women and girls across the world through direct service work and policy.

$30 gives college mentors the tools needed to be role models.