Female Leadership

As a teenage girl growing up in the 21st century in America, I have learned a lot about how far women rights have come, but also how far we have yet to go. In the past, women have been treated as inferior to the opposite sex, as seen evidently in history; it was, after all, only 98 years ago that women were given their right to vote in America. Even today, inequalities and differences due to gender still exist. Three women serve as justices on the supreme court out of nine people, and yet only four women have sat in this position out of the 114 people to serve in all of the supreme court’s existence. This shows that progress is being made, slowly but surely. In this day and age, there are plenty of places to look and find women who are encouraging and inspiring young girls: women in politics, actresses, and singers who promote women empowerment by using their platforms. But within our very own campus women leadership is clear within the student body and the many efforts being made around campus to bring light specifically to girls and what they are capable of doing.

For seventh grader girls and junior girls, a special bond exists through GERLS, which stands for Girls Empowering Relationships through Leadership and Service. GERLS is a mentoring program between these two grades of girls. The eleventh grade girls talk about issues women in this country today face, and once a week they go to the seventh graders’ homerooms to create a safe discussion space as well as bond together and hear about each other’s weeks. Examples of discussion topics during their time together include social media and body image. “GERLS is important to me because I know middle school is a tough time; girls grow as people and face new situations they haven’t encountered before,” says GERLS leader Telissa Reynolds. GERLS is all about giving these seventh grade girls guidance and letting them know there are older girls who have been in their place and who care about what they have to say. “We want to boost their confidence in themselves as well as their standings and views so that they can feel comfortable talking to us, but also in making friends and talking to others,” Reynolds says. “At first I was nervous about how they might receive us, but now every week we’re greeted by big smiles and they happily share and discuss with us. It’s especially meaningful to hear how they’re taking what we discuss and putting it into action.” Giving young girls their own voice and the confidence to speak up for themselves is an important lesson and habit to attain at a young age, because otherwise girls might grow up not having faith in themselves and in their capabilities, and that could leave them without the tools they need to advocate for themselves and stand up for what they believe in as they get older.

Another strong example of a group of female leadership on Westminster’s campus is the Gender Equality and Relations club, GEAR for short. This year GEAR aims to focus on educating Westminster students about what sexual harassment is and what the nature of healthy relationships are. Off of Westminster’s campus, this club has taken a stance in empowering women, and doing so through shelters. Last year they did a care bag campaign for shelters, and exceeded their goal of about 30 or 40 bags to send to a shelter, by collecting 90 to 100 bags, and intend on continuing this type of work. Their goal in the greater Atlanta community is to work with the shelters to help girls get back on their feet after having been in sex trafficking situations. On Westminster’s campus, the goal of GEAR is to promote a community that cares for the needs of the greater community of Atlanta, and to create a space where people can learn more about issues involving gender, and plan on doing so through informational campaigns and an assembly. “I think that especially being young, we’re not necessarily told that our voices are important and that our opinions should be heard,” says GEAR leader Payton Selby. “In today’s society, in particular with girls, we’re told so often to be silence, especially when it comes to issues of sexual harassment.” This was seen in the Kavanaugh hearings; it is difficult for women to report their assaults and harassments, and many women feel silenced due to the common unbelief of survivors’ stories and the taboo surrounding this issue. “Empowering girls now, in high school, to be able to take a stance will spread and follow them even after high school, and will hopefully will start to normalize the idea of women empowerment, but also women speaking and teaching and being active leaders within whatever community they become apart of in life,” says Selby.

Another group on campus strongly involved with the empowerment and leadership of young girls is Circle of Women. Circle is a entirely student run non profit that has the mission of increasing access to secondary education for girls around the world. Circle is run by college students, and they have several college and high school chapters, like Westminster, that are charged with raising awareness for the cause, raising funds for the cause, and also doing project design. Ms. Cowan, a teacher advisor for Circle, is frequently with the Westminster girls who are apart of Circle, and has seen girls in Circle become empowered and leaders through it. Recently in a Circle club meeting, Sonja Eliason, the Co-Executive Director of Circle and a senior at Harvard, skyped into the club meeting. She said that for her, Circle has shown her what an impact she can have on the world and that when she wakes up and feels too frazzled to do something, or is just tired or something of the sorts, she just thinks to herself, ‘If I don’t get up and do this, what would happen?’ “What’s cool about Circle is that there is a real world impact, and if you don’t do what you’ve committed to do, girls in a different part of the world can’t go to high school,” says Cowan. “And for these high school girls involved, that’s pretty profound to think about; it’s not just that a teacher might get mad, or that someone else might have to step up, it’s larger than themselves. For instance if they don’t raise $5,000, this school in Peru isn’t going to have a computer lab.” This opportunity for this type of realization for high school girls is important. It shows them that they have the power and ability to create change. “Something like Circle of Women, where they are doing jobs that adults would do, and doing a really good job with it, is a really empowering experience,” Cowan says. “And Circle is a really great context to realize that there are different kinds of leadership, and that it really takes a lot of different types of strengths to build a functioning team.” Girls on Westminster’s campus are being shown that they deserve the chance and resources to speak up for themselves, and be a leader on and off of campus, for others as well as themselves through different leadership opportunities, clubs, and fellow classmates.