Smashing the patriarchy: leading and learning from girl activists

It is so often in this world that decisions are made about girls without their input, from who they marry to whether they receive an education, to what does and doesn’t happen to their bodies. Last month With and For Girls brought together 12 activists from Kenya, Guatemala, Palestine, Nicaragua, Poland, Barbados, Israel, Romania, USA and Nepal to put on a closing plenary at the Human Rights Funders Network conference in Mexico City.
Girls all around the world are leading human rights movements toward a safer and more equal world. They work tirelessly and are under-recognised, under-estimated and underfunded.

Watch a video of this convening here

Girls to the Front: A snapshot of girl-led organizing

It’s tough being a girl. All over the world, girls face multiple layers of discrimination: for being female, for being young and for the other multiple identities that define them, such as race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. In the face of these challenges, girls worldwide are organising and joining forces to have their agency and autonomy recognised, respected and celebrated. Who better to know what girls need than girls themselves?

Girls and their organisations and/or initiatives are important to social movements. Mama Cash and FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, two women’s funds long committed to supporting girls and their organising, decided to commission a research study to find out more about how girls are organising across the world. This participatory, feminist, intersectional research placed girls at the centre, making them partners of the study. The participation of Girl Advisors— activists who hail from five different countries and have diverse backgrounds, profiles and
skills– brought invaluable input to the table.

The research used in-depth interviews and an online questionnaire, as well as an exhaustive desk review to collect data from girl-led groups and organisations, girl-centred organisations and the stakeholders that support them at different levels. This is an exciting opportunity to spotlight how girl-led organising takes place and how funders can provide flexible support that responds to the needs of girls and their organising.

Read more of the Girls to the Front report here

An Exploratory Essay Confronting the Issues Involving Children with Incarceration Parents and How to Break the Cycle

As a child, my mother would stand on the porch of the third floor projects in the St. Bernard Housing Development and scream my name when it was time to come inside. Worried about what was waiting in the hallways leading to our apartment, she would meet me half way to ensure my safety. You see, trauma was normal growing up, but the hardest part was finding the best way to deal with it.

This November, I’ll be thirty-five years old. To some, it is a time to celebrate, but for me, it is the time I fight to hold back tears because it means another year my dad has been incarcerated. For thirty-five years, I have been denied the opportunity to wake up and say, “Good morning, Daddy,” and “Have a great day.” Instead, I have repeatedly heard, “You have a collect call from an inmate at a Louisiana State Prison.” I have spent my life with my dad behind bars, trying to raise me as if he were present in my life. I cannot tell you what it is like to have dinner with my dad or to attend an event with him. I was never afforded that opportunity.

These are my words and my thoughts on breaking the cycle that children of incarcerated parents often face in New Orleans and how it affected me personally. In addition, this essay will argue for the critical role city and state officials, along with community leaders, have in providing solutions to end the trauma that children with incarcerated parents face. More importantly, this essay provides guidance on how to break the cycle of broken families in New Orleans.

Read more at Loyola Law Review. 

Immigrants, Fearing Trump Crackdown, Drop Out of Nutrition Programs

Both documented and undocumented immigrants fear that accepting federal aid could make them ineligible for a green card if rules are changed.

Immigrants are turning down government help to buy infant formula and healthy food for their young children because they’re afraid the Trump administration could bar them from getting a green card if they take federal aid.

Local health providers say they’ve received panicked phone calls from both documented and undocumented immigrant families demanding to be dropped from the rolls of WIC, a federal nutrition program aimed at pregnant women and children, after news reports that the White House is potentially planning to deny legal status to immigrants who’ve used public benefits. Agencies in at least 18 states say they’ve seen drops of up to 20 percent in enrollment, and they attribute the change largely to fears about the immigration policy.

The Trump administration hasn’t officially put the policy in place yet, but even without a formal rule, families are already being scared away from using services, health providers say.

Read more at Politico.

Number of Incarcerated Women and Girls Skyrocketed 700 percent Since 1980

The number of incarcerated girls and women has skyrocketed from roughly 26,500 in 1980 to 214,000 in 2016, growing at nearly twice the rate of male imprisonment in the United States, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Compiled by The Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based organization for criminal justice reform, the report states that the nearly 700 percent increase is due to a complex web of factors, including strengthened drug sentencing laws and barriers to re-entry. Prison reform advocates have said that more research is needed to understand how those barriers can be addressed within the general female population.

Nicole Porter, the director of advocacy for the project, told Newsweek that the ability to connect with a supportive community or family is especially important for women hoping to re-integrate.

Read more on Newsweek

On National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women, Here’s What We Don’t Know

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Senate has declared May 5 the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R), along with several co-sponsors, introduced the resolution to honor Hanna Harris, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe of Montana who went missing in 2013 and was later found raped and murdered. Harris’ birthday is May 5.

Although it is seemingly a newly discovered epidemic by political leaders and legacy media, the tragedy of missing and murdered Native women and girls has gone on for generations. Carmen O’Leary, coordinator of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains in South Dakota, told Rewire.News in a previous article, “It happens all the time in Indian Country.”

Read more on Rewire News 

Why Many Native American Girls Skip School When They Have Their Periods

“They shouldn’t feel like they’re being punished for being a girl.”


Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, S.D. ― Dominique Amiotte, 17, always makes sure to keep a few extra tampons in her locker. It’s not much, but it’s enough to encourage at least some of her struggling friends to come to school when they have their periods.

About half of Amiotte’s girlfriends can’t afford tampons or sanitary pads. As a result, when they menstruate, they’ll skip school for as long as a week. This can lead them to fall behind in class, contributing to the already abysmal graduation rates on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There are no official records on how many of the young women at the reservation’s 13 schools have felt the consequences of this issue, but individuals we spoke to say it’s an inescapable part of everyday life.

“It makes me angry,” Amiotte told HuffPost unflinchingly while seated in an empty classroom at the Crazy Horse School, where there are 70 girls enrolled in middle or high school classes.

It takes a lot to rattle teenagers who have grown up on the sprawling reservation, which abuts the sacred Black Hills and the craggy Badlands. Oglala Lakota County ― which encompasses most of the reservation’s 3,469 square miles ― is the third-poorest county in the United States. It’s home to the Oglala Lakota, a tribe that’s part of the Sioux people.

Per capita income is $9,150 and 44 percent of residents in this rural area live in poverty. There are so few jobs that getting work usually means heading about 100 miles to Rapid City, the nearest city, or leaving the state entirely.

Youngsters here grow up fast, confronting some of life’s harshest realities before they’re even old enough to transition out of a car seat.

Children here learn to get by without such basics as central heat, even when temperatures drop to -25 degrees. Alcoholism and teen suicide are rampant on the reservation, and rates for graduation and life expectancy are devastatingly low

For many women and girls not having access to tampons and pads cuts to the heart of another issue: gender rights.

“They shouldn’t feel like they’re being punished for being a girl,” said Julia Chipps, the nurse at the Crazy Horse School.

After a young student lost her grandmother, who was her primary caretaker, she told Chipps that she was considering getting pregnant. That way, she wouldn’t have to worry about buying tampons for a while. Some girls stock up on toilet paper at school to use as makeshift pads. It’s not uncommon to see women on the reservation walking around wearing pants stained with blood, Chipps said.

Girls stream in and out of the nurse’s office throughout the day to get a spare tampon, pad or dose of Midol pain reliever tablets. Chipps spends about $60 every other month to stock her office at the school with feminine products and pain relievers for students, but it’s not enough to keep up with the girls’ needs.

When girls return to school for the 2017 fall semester, Crazy Horse will have a bigger stockpile of free tampons and pads, thanks to a partnership of nonprofits that began shipping products to the school in July. Such programs are unusual on the reservation though, according to Bonnie LaDeaux, a student adviser at Crazy Horse.

Read and watch the full story on the Huffington Post.

The Energy to Protect Girls of Color, Take Down Their Barriers Is Here

I had the privilege to bear witness to the vast beauty, power and resiliency of girls and women of color speaking their truths in mid-June. I was in awe as I learned how women of color across the country are supporting and showing up for one another and girls in their communities at the Grantmakers for Girls of Color Second National Funders Convening, focused this year on Reimagining Safety: An Urgent Conversation about the Movements Centering Girls of Color.

As I reflect on that powerful day, these questions keep recurring in my mind: What is safety? What does safety look like for girls of color? What does it mean to feel safe as a black, Latina, Asian, Native American, native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander girl? Or as a cis, trans and/or queer girl of color?

Girls of color face too many threats to their well-being and safety both from physical assaults and emotional attacks on their identity in public and private spaces. And these threats are exacerbated by the barriers that lock them and their families out of economic, educational and collective opportunity. Issues including poverty, racism, discrimination, and economic and community violence facing girls of color are intersectional and do not occur in a vacuum. They operate under broader, macro issues that impact the girls’ well-being.

Girls of color are pushed out of school at alarming rates when compared to their white counterparts and are more likely to be referred to law enforcement from school. According to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center, this is particularly true for black and Native American girls. They are over-represented in the juvenile and criminal justice systems as a result of biased law enforcement practices and policies that target their communities and place law enforcement in nontraditional settings, such as schools and as first responders to mental health and family crises.

Moreover, girls of color are subject to implicit biases that result in the criminalization of adolescent behavior (for example, being truant and underage drinking) and perpetuate them as being complicit with illicit acts, such as sexual abuse and sex trafficking, rather than as victims. Their identity through the way they wear their hair and how they look, sound and dress is routinely demeaned.

These issues may seem insurmountable, but the good news is they are not. I was rendered speechless, tearful and completely entranced by what I heard, felt and experienced at the convening — from the Truthworker performance to the panel discussions and the many side conversations that took place over coffee, lunch and bathroom breaks. The convening offered a hopeful and fierce energy to reimagine a world in which girls of color feel safe and their humanity is embraced and celebrated by their families, communities and country — and surety that we can see this world realized.

The first and most important step to dismantling barriers facing girls of color and reimagining safety for them is to start with listening to, understanding, co-creating and following girls of color themselves. They are the foremost experts at diagnosing their problems, identifying the right solutions, and leading and driving change for themselves.

Monique Morris framed three key recommendations for the field moving forward:

  • Approach the girls of color work as a multifaceted, holistic, dynamic project.
  • Provide opportunities for broad interpretations of safety and justice that respond to the lived experiences of girls of color (not just theoretical frameworks).
  • Partner with those seeking to innovate in response to the harmful conditions girls of color disproportionately experience. The creativity of this movement with and on behalf of girls of color is awesome!

Youth development program providers, advocates and systems leaders can have a distinctive role in being a platform for girls of color and their voices, creating space to cultivate their stories, incubate their ideas, follow and support their leadership, and honor their truths. We must ask ourselves: How are we showing up in our programs and in our communities in support of girls of color? How is our work providing them protection from harmful and oppressive systems, places, spaces and people? How are we creating spaces that allow them the freedom to be their beautiful and audacious selves? We can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.

As one speaker put it: Safety for girls of color will be realized when we can say, like the indomitable Harriet Tubman, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

Kisha Bird is director of youth policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy and project director for the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition chaired by CLASP. Focusing on local and federal policy solutions, she works to expand access to education, employment and support services for low-income and opportunity youth, with a focus on young men and women of color.

This piece was originally published on

A Blueprint for Investing in Vulnerable Young Girls

A study released last month in the journal Science found that by age six, girls are already less likely to see themselves and other girls and women to be as brilliant and capable as boys. While this applied to girls regardless of race and income, a report released in November by The New York Women’s Foundation highlights the particular challenges faced by low-income girls, particularly immigrant girls and girls of color, and the critical need to support their mothers and caretakers in order to promote their progress.

New York City is home to 450,000 girls under the age of eight. Fully three-quarters live in communities of color or immigrant communities. As many as 40% live in poverty.

These girls clearly embody the vibrant, diverse future of our city. Last fall, every poster announcing New York’s new universal pre-K program prominently displayed at least one of those little girls’ shining faces, inspiring deep feelings of warmth and protectiveness.

The problem is that tender feelings and a single additional year of schooling are far from sufficient to meet these girls’ needs. The first eight years of a child’s life comprise a period of both unique vulnerability and unparalleled cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. Ensuring solid health and progress for low-income girls thus requires ensuring that they receive strong, consistent nurturance from well-supported and well-prepared adults – 24/7 – across all those critical years of learning and growth.

And that is where we run into trouble.

Our report, Blueprint for Investing in Girls Age 0-8 from The New York Women’s Foundation,  clearly shows that our society has remained stubbornly resistant to adopting measures that would ensure fair protection, just compensation, adequate support, and strong preparation to the low-income women of color who are raising these girls.

Here are the facts:

–Low-income mothers have highly-limited access to the basic guidance, reassurance, and respite that all mothers need to be effective nurturers and first teachers. While mothers of means can typically avail themselves of an array of supports – from culturally-appropriate parenting groups to knowledgeable nannies to classes explaining just how to boost a child’s reading skills – there exist no comparably- and consistently-accessible resources for all the low-income mothers whose core childrearing challenges are inevitably further exacerbated by the tolls of poverty.

–Low-income women of color are overwhelmingly both the main (or sole) wage earners and the main (or sole) caregivers for their families. They are concurrently responsible for paying their families’ core bills, providing or arranging for their children’s round-the-clock care, and serving as the backbone of our city’s low-wage workforce. Yet, New York City currently provides only some 36,000 slots of direct, subsidized childcare to cover the needs of the hundreds of thousands of working mothers who cannot possibly afford market-rate care. And even the families that qualify for the subsidy often find the slots to be geographically inaccessible, financially unaffordable, or unavailable at the moment that they need them.

–The (predominantly non-white, female) workers who staff the city’s subsidized childcare programs earn salaries that put them barely over the poverty line themselves. And the even larger cadre of informal caregivers employed by most working mothers have only limited access to the ongoing training, support, feedback, and supervision that their vitally-important work merits – and requires.

–The service and retail jobs that low-wage working women overwhelmingly hold are typically characterized by minimal pay scales, erratic hours, and total lack of flexibility. Low-wage working mothers therefore not only battle to simultaneously meet their families’ caregiving and economic needs – they struggle fiercely to dovetail those childcare arrangements to the sudden fluctuations of their working hours and to ensure that someone is on hand to handle the emergencies that can arise in any family.

Fortunately, the situation is not completely grim. Across the city, a range of sterling efforts are leading the way to improvement on all those critical fronts.

Read the full article in the Gotham Gazette.

There Are More Girls Living in Poverty Today Than in 2007

There are more girls in the U.S. living in poverty and low-income households now than were ten years ago, according to a new report released exclusively to Motto by the Girl Scout Research Institute. The report, titled the State of Girls, examines key changes in the economic, educational, physiological and psychological well-being of American girls since the Great Recession.

Today, 41% of girls live in low-income households, up from 38% in 2007. The percentage of girls living in households of poverty increased from 17% in 2007 to 20% in 2014. (A child is considered low income if her family income is less than twice the poverty threshold.) Girls of color are disproportionately affected: In 2014, black girls were the most likely to live in poverty (35%), closely followed by Latina and American Indian girls (31% each). Multiracial girls were 20% likely, Asian-American girls were 14% and white girls were least likely to live in poverty, with only 12%. These numbers are particularly concerning, because girls living in low-income households are more likely to face additional challenges across all areas of well-being.

“These are things we have known about for a while, but we don’t talk about them,” said Kamla Modi, Senior Researcher for Thought Leadership at the institute. “This report really helps us talk about them.”

The institute has been developing reports like this one for the past five years in order to adjust Girls Scouts programming to suit the needs of American girls, Modi said. The State of Girls report utilizes data compiled by government resources such as the United States Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Education Statistics.

“What we do is take the data on girls [only], pull it together, summarize it and talk about it, because otherwise this data is looked at for youth in general,” Modi said. “We know boys and girls are so different on a variety of indicators.” By breaking down the statistics even further to isolate girls of specific races, ethnicities, and sexual identities and orientations, researchers are able to get a much clearer picture.

Read the full article in Motto.