A program called Girl Determined promotes leadership among adolescent girls through a multi-faceted, engaged approach. In Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, it is common for young girls to grow up wishing they had been born boys. Despite progress and distribution of equal rights in developed nations, women and girls living in Myanmar still face extreme oppression today. Unfortunately, they continue to fight for some of their most basic human rights.
Women and girls regularly face issues such as gender inequality, violent relationships and extreme prejudice. 2016 Demographic and Health Survey found that 21 percent of women had reported experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence from their partner. Researchers even believe that, given the authoritarian-style government in Myanmar, the real number is actually much higher.
Part of the problem is that girls between the ages of 12 and 17 lack the confidence and empowerment needed to speak up for their rights. In a nation where females are born into the expectation that they will remain subdued, gaining the courage to challenge the norm can be difficult. Girl Determined is working to change that.
The program is structured primarily around Circles. Circles are weekly after-school peer groups that provide young girls with a place to share their experiences and learn from one another. Currently, more than 2,000 girls across Myanmar participate in Circles. The meetings follow a curriculum that addresses five categories:
- Building friendships
- Understanding cultural and religious differences
- Girls’ rights and planning for one’s future.
During the group sessions, topics can range from universal experiences among adolescents, like puberty and chore lists, to challenges exclusive to the female Myanmar community. For example, shared fears concerning the risk of sex trafficking, lack of education and violence witnessed in war.
To provide support for Circles, Girl Determined hosts an annual Girls’ Leadership summer camp, a Girls’ Conference and a number of athletic programs and campaigns. They are encouraged to keep a journal, plant seeds and participate in team sports. All of these opportunities are designed to put girls at center stage. Furthermore, the program intends to create an outlet to advocate for issues that inherently affect them.
Through something as simple as open discussion and encouragement, participants are paving a brighter future for girls in Myanmar. Adolescent girls have become a marginalized group after decades of being taught to follow cultural norms and remain silent. Girl Determined promotes leadership, while also functioning as a platform for real change. Many of the girls who have participated in the program say it taught them to speak up, specifically against gender-based violence and has mobilized them to spark change in their communities.
In 2013, over 800 participants gathered for a conference in Rangoon to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Teenagers from Girl Determined advocated for policy change in the social welfare department. The local news even covered their statement. Since their statement, women’s organizations working closely with the government have implemented protection for girls into Myanmar’s National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.
The Circles program is entirely voluntary, so the program measures its overall success is by retention of attendance. Across various project sites in Myanmar, attendance averages at 90 percent. Overall, this speaks to the power in how Girl Determined promotes leadership among young women.
– Anna Lagattuta