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Girls to the Front: A snapshot of girl led organizing

Esther Lever

Ruby Johnson

Girls are not the future, they are the present. Today’s girls are organizing in incredibly courageous and creative ways that philanthropic and international development actors are struggling to catch up with. Around the world, girls are spearheading important fundamental systems change work and resisting closing space in their communities and on the frontlines of protests, yet are virtually absent from strategic conversations, funding and key decision making strategies. Funding for girls’ rights and girls’ development agendas almost never directly resources groups where girls themselves are leaders and organizers.

FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund and Mama Cash, two women’s funds working globally, commissioned research to better understand the landscape of organizing by girls, particularly those organizing with little or no adult intervention. Here’s what we learnt as funders supporting the development of this research:

  1. Early on we decided to address the absence of girls in strategic processes by making sure they had a guiding role in the project. The research process was participatory, involving girls in all steps and activities, including the development and implementation of data collection tools. This made for a thorough and exciting research endeavor that lifted up the voices, experiences, and importantly, the expertise of girls as leaders.
  2. Girls are organizing around the world— it just may look different from how adults organise, like applying more horizontal, non-hierarchical leadership approaches or not necessarily seeking formal registration. Girls are organizing around and affected by global trends such as closing space—while simultaneously needing to deal with sexism and ageism as well.
  3. A key driver for girls organizing themselves and their peers is prior involvement in civil society— inspiring some girls to set up their own organisations and others to build up separate initiatives within existing adult-led organisations. When girls create initiatives within adult-led organisations, we see that they usually retain programmatic autonomy, though they tend not to have full control over financial resources.
  4. Girls face many barriers and challenges, one of these is not being taken seriously in activism by adults and in many cases, older feminists. Despite the backlash that girls face from their families, communities and state and non state actors, they shared that the discrimination they experience from fellow activists and other feminists due to their age is the most stinging.  Funders can play a key role enabling intergenerational dialogue and supporting girl leaderships.
  5. Girls do not have endless energy and they deserve to be fairly compensated  for their expertise and advice. Girls reported that often adult organisations assume they have endless energy because of their age and that their labour doesn’t need to be compensated the same way an adult does. As funders we have a chance to change these perceptions by adequately recognizing girls work.
  6. Funders need to start meaningfully involving girls in decision making processes. Girls show they are capable of holding this space, and we need to acknowledge it and act according. In order to facilitate girls’ involvement, it is  important that we, as funders, recognize that girls hold many roles and responsibilities in their lives. They need to be compensated in ways that meets their needs, be it via financial or non-financial support.

During the International Day of the Girl, FRIDA | the Young Feminist Fund and Mama Cash are excited to share this research and hope that it will spark further dialogue and discussion on the role of girls in the larger ecosystem of social movements, and what roles we, as funders, can play in supporting girl-led organizing around the world.

Read the full report “Girls to the Front,” available on the websites of both Mama Cash and FRIDA.

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