Too girly. Not girly enough. Too smart, too dumb. Too skinny, too curvy. Too anything. For girls, the mixed messages they get about how they should act, look, and think are confusing and demoralizing. The sad reality is that girls are being held back by all of the unrealistic expectations placed on them. And way too often, most of the people around them haven’t got a clue about the realities girls are facing.
What better time than International Day of the Girl to reflect on the lives of girls in our own communities. While today the world shines a once-a-year spotlight on girls’ lives, listening to what girls have to say is something we do every day at GGC. And that’s a good thing, because addressing the issues they face is integral to who we are as a girl-driven organization.
What exactly are girls telling us? That society has an unrealistic vision of them – and that leaves them feeling like their appearance, ideas and abilities are never good enough. This is what we heard at our Ignite. Inspire. Innovate. conference in April. The girls were pretty blunt in describing all of the negativity, hurdles and barricades they face in their lives. Their stories were poignant and powerful – and we heard them loud and clear.
To determine whether these concerns affect the wider teenage community, GGC recently commissioned a nationwide survey of girls aged 15-17. The data confirms that the challenges identified by our own girl members are indeed widespread across the country and are negatively impacting the self-esteem of teenage girls.
All of this reinforces for us that it’s imperative to listen and understand what girls are saying so that we can empower every girl to become everything she wants to be. To support girls in overcoming all of the negativity thrown their way, we need to engage girls and ensure we are consistently giving them a platform to be heard – and as an organization, act on what they are telling us.
Girls’ voices matter. They are the experts in their own lives. In a world that largely devalues, objectifies and mocks them, Guiding can fill the niche of being their space where they are valued, respected and empowered to shape their world.
Jill Zelmanovits is the CEO of Girl Guides of Canada.