One of the questions I get frequently as a Chapter Director is, “Why do you only include girls in your program?” I’ve heard it from the girls, my mentors, girls’ parents, generous donors, and other interested parties. To learn how to answer this question, I did some research as to why founder Lindsay Hyde decided to start a girls-only after-school education program.
- A study entitled “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America” demonstrated, among many other things, that girls’ self-esteem decreases with age, while boys’ self-esteem stays the same. The same study also notes that many studies have been done of the education system, where it is clear that girls get less attention from teachers and participate less in class.
- An article, “Gender-Responsive Programming as a Pathway to Quality,” indicates that girls’ programming gives young girls a more productive outlet as the curriculum is designed with girls’ experiences and interests in mind.
- The same article also notes that most of these girls-only programs are run by women and teach about other women, giving girls female role models. Girls-only mentoring programs also provide a community of women, both peers and mentors, with whom girls can engage.
Even with all of this research, it’s nice to provide a firsthand account. For me, the most important part of a girls-only after school program is that my co-mentors and I get to create this safe space where girls can be themselves, can demonstrate their strengths, and can learn to treat other women with respect. So, those girls who aren’t participating in the classroom, who are struggling with self-esteem issues, who feel as if they don’t have friends can come to SWSG and build relationships with anywhere from 8-15 female friends.
I had one girl at my site who would rarely participate, even though whenever she did, she had intelligent and insightful things to say. When we did the Lifelong Learning lesson this past semester, this girl wrote down that she wanted to be a doctor, something we never knew about her. It was very difficult for her to share this fact with us, but once she did, the room burst into a shower of support and love for her lofty and beautiful goal. It’s these kind of breakthroughs, where lots of young girls get excited about one young woman’s dreams, that make me believe that girls need a gender-specific program like Strong Women, Strong Girls.