It’s #GirlHeroes year! Starting on International Day of the Girl – October 11, 2023 – until October 2024, organizations around the globe are encouraged to invest in girls’ rights and girls’ leadership. For socially committed companies, this is a great opportunity to put human rights respect into action and promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Supporting girl leadership is also a meaningful contribution to Sustainable Development Goal -SDG- 5: Gender equality and empowerment of girls and women. When girls rise, we all win. Here are 12 actions your business can take.
‘Girls just want to have FUN-damental rights’ – a variation on that famous 1980s pop song by Cyndi Lauper – can be seen as a slogan on signs held by girls and women in street demonstrations across the world. (By the way, Girls Just Want To Have Fundamental Rights is now the name of a fund launched by Cyndi Lauper in 2022 to stop the undermining of women’s sexual and reproductive rights).
Gender inequalities stagnate progress
From early on, things are different for girls compared to boys. In nearly every country, deeply rooted power dynamics and social norms still afford boys and young men advantages in most domains – whether it’s education, policy making, community participation, and the workplace.
True, global gender equality statistics have been heading in the right direction over the last few decades. But the unequal impacts of COVID-19, climate change and natural disasters, war and economic recession have moved the clock backwards for women in many ways.
Gender inequality is not only bad for girls. Disparities in rights and access stagnate the world’s progress. We will not achieve prosperity, peace and sustainable development as long as girls and women can’t develop their full potential.
Tackling global challenges that affect us all
It’s no coincidence that for girl activists around the world, gender equality is the single most important issue. New research among more than 1,000 girl and young women leaders on five continents conducted by PLAN International, shows what moves these trailblazers for change in 2023.
They are mobilizing their local communities, classrooms, friends and online networks to join forces for positive change. And it’s not just women’s rights they are concerned about. They also speak up for climate action and the environment, peace, economic empowerment, poverty relief, and other pressing global challenges that affect us all.
Leadership empowers girls
Often, their activism comes at huge personal cost. According to the study, 1 in 5 girl and young women activists have feared for their safety while carrying out their work. More than half named a lack of finances as the main factor holding their campaigning back, while 1 in 4 girls cited negative views from family or community members as a barrier.
Many leaders surveyed have experienced anxiety, depression, burnout and emotional exhaustion. Despite this, 95% of the girl and young women activists say campaigning has had a positive impact on their lives, making them feel proud, empowered and successful in making a difference.
As a business, you are well positioned to give much needed support to girl leadership that benefits all. It is an excellent opportunity to put your corporate human rights strategy into action and promote diversity, equity and inclusion in and around your organization.
By doing so, you also contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals -SDGs-. Girls’ and women’s rights are central to SDG 5: Gender equality and empowerment of girls and women, and are a cross-cutting theme through all 17 global goals and their targets.
Ensuring zero child labor in commercial activities
Did you know that globally, 6 million women and girls are trapped in forced labor in the private sector? (… and this number, an estimate by the International Labour Organisation -ILO-, does not include a shocking 4.9 million women and girls engaged in forced commercial sexual exploitation).
Although exact numbers are hard to get by, a significant number of these women and girls are linked to the global supply chains of multinational companies.
So, if we talk about promoting girls’ and young women’s leadership, your company should first ensure that no minors are engaged by your international supply chain partners. If you are no multinational company yourself, make sure you only buy from providers that guarantee zero-child labor.
Because if girls and adolescents are engaged in work when they should be in school, and doing jobs that are mentally or physically straining, or even dangerous, there is not even room for them to develop leadership qualities and stand up for positive change.
12 Business actions to promote girl leadership
Here are 12 things your business can do to support girls’ and young women’s leadership:
- Offer mentorship and coaching to adolescent girls to support their leadership skills development, access to networks, public speaking skills and capacity to voice their needs with key stakeholders.
- Support girls’ rights activists in markets where those rights are not fully respected or girl leaders who lead the charge for a healthy natural environment and social justice in your own country.
- Is your company operating in global markets? Speak out publicly if you detect obstruction of girl leaders’ freedom of expression, liberty of movement, political participation or freedom to organize groups and rallies for the causes they stand for.
- Donate a percentage of your revenue to civil society organizations that promote girls’ leadership. To increase impact, share the work of the supported organizations and stories of supported girl leaders on your company website, product packages and displays in stores and offices.
- Organize a fundraiser in your organization in support of a girls’ organization or platform. Ask your team to promote the fundraising event in their networks, invite people from neighboring communities and have local businesses sponsor the event.
- Are you a manager, CEO or team leader? Share your own leadership lessons and advice with girls in your environment. Have a conversation with your daughters, nieces, and girl neighbours, offer a leadership workshop at a university in your city or town, or give a classroom presentation at a local school.
- Hold an Open House at your business and invite girls to interact with leaders in different areas to give them an insight into leadership tasks and responsibilities, with lots of room for them to get answers to their questions.
- Promote employee engagement and corporate volunteering programs in support of girl leaders in your city or town, or remote and online if your organization operates in different locations.
- Follow girl leaders who are active on social media – think of UNICEF ambassadors, social justice and sustainability influencers, Child Peace Prize nominees, and young leaders supported by women’s and rights organizations in your country. Share their posts, engage in conversations on socials to increase their audience reach, support their fundraisers and calls to action.
- Set up workshops, training, and awareness-raising campaigns in your global operating areas focused on girls’ leadership training, political participation, and access to leadership roles in the workplace (don’t forget to include male family and community members to reduce barriers to women’s participation).
- Promote entrepreneurship and business leadership among young women (while taking care to avoid labor by underage girls). Think of buying from local women-owned suppliers, investing in startup accelerators focusing on women founders, or investing in young women-led enterprises yourself.
- Offer technical and logistics support to help girls’ movements and networks get the word out, for instance through digital training, by offering meeting spaces, or giving communications support.
Whichever way you choose to collaborate, your support will be highly relevant. Take the leaders surveyed in the 2023 Girl leadership study. More than half of the leaders say the impact of their activism has met or exceeded their expectations. The capacity of girl and young women leaders to create change is real.
If girls rise, we all win. Step in and make it happen!
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Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights Fund
European Commission, International Partnerships: Empowering women and girls to end child labour
International Labour Organization -ILO- and UNICEF: Child Labour. Global estimates 2020, Trends and the road forward
UNICEF: International Day of the Girl 2023: Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being