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What does “girl” mean to you? To me, it’s not about gender or age; it’s about mindset. It’s about being bold and brave. It’s about believing that anything is possible — and it’s about owning your girl power. After all, today’s girls aren’t tomorrow’s leaders. They’re not the next generation, they’re the now generation. They’re already leaders. They’re standing up for the environment, campaigning for education rights, and fighting for gun reform. And while young women like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and Emma Gonzales are already making headlines, there are 1.1 billion girls just like them, brimming with potential to use their voice and change the world.
That’s why amplifying days like International Day of the Girl is so important. On Friday, we celebrate the next generation of women and find solutions to the barriers they face. Around the world, women of all ages are tackling obstacles and bias simply because of their gender. Consider the facts:
It’s estimated that 35 percent of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence.
Every year, more than 41,000 girls are married before their 18th birthday.
So, what can we do to help our girls rise? Here are three simple steps you can take in your everyday life to advance equality and empower young women around the globe:
1. Practice mentorship in the moment.
I always say that a moment of mentorship can lead to a lifetime of impact. It’s not just about wisdom being pushed down from the top down or the bottom up, it’s about bits and bytes of knowledge being shared all around. Mentorship can make a big difference in someone’s life and career. Studies show that women who have mentors are more likely to be successful — and it’s never too soon to start. This doesn’t have to be formal; simply share advice and lead by example. Start the conversation early; uncover hopes and dreams and then share personal stories from your path of self-discovery. The best advice is from people who have been there, done that.
2. Remember that media matters.
We often say, “if you can see her, you can be her.” That’s the driving force behind #SeeHer, the movement I co-founded with the ANA to eliminate bias in media and advertising. As our research found, 55 percent of adults believe that women are portrayed negatively in programming, and 91 percent of women say that advertisers don’t understand them. When girls see themselves accurately represented and a true reflection for who they are onscreen, they’re able to see their own potential. Be intentional about the media you consume and create. Be inspired by strong female characters and the accurate portrayal of girls and women in media and entertainment.
3. Speak up, stand up, and stand out for initiatives and policies that support women and girls
At the current rate of progress, it will take 108 years to close the global gender gap and 202 years to achieve economic gender parity. In the past five years, the United States has slipped precipitously on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index rankings of 149 countries — from 23rd in 2013 to 51st in 2018. Use your voice and your vote to promote change. Support organizations that support girls, like Plan International, Girl Up, and WE.org.
Find out if your state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and call your senators and urge them to support this vital piece of legislation (because, as unbelievable as it may seem, women’s rights still aren’t recognized as equal to men’s under law in the United States).
Imagine a world where women are treated equally, a world where girls are empowered to fulfill their potential, and a world where we see ourselves reflected. It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s fundamental to the health of our societies and economies. Each of us has the power to help girls rise and it will be the next generation that closes all the gaps. Know that you can make a difference. Know your value.
Shelley Zalis is CEO of The Female Quotient and founder of The Girls' Lounge. She is a champion of equality and has devoted her career to advancing women in the workplace.