Last week I took part in a discussion conducted by UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. An impressive group of leaders gathered, from the Presidents of the local Planned Parenthood, the Chicago Foundation for Women and Women Employed, to young leaders who challenge the status quo and make their voices heard.
The goal of the conversation was ambitious. Keeping in mind the goals for gender equality laid out 20 years ago at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, what will it take for us to achieve global gender equality by 2030?
We had about two hours so we split into two groups, one focused on Economic Justice and the other focused on Social Justice. We solved the problems, high-fived, and had a glass of wine.
We didn’t choose what discussion we took part in, the room was split in half and I ended up taking part in the discussion on economic justice. It’s a big topic, the issues of parental leave, equal pay, flexible schedules and valuing unpaid work immediately came up. Always wanting to make sure girls are represented, I piped up, “We need to recognize the value of investing in girls.”
Some people in the group nodded their heads and voiced their approval. Who doesn’t want to invest in girls? But the moderator pushed me. “Can you expand on that?” she asked. “How will investing in girls lead to economic justice?”
Caught a little bit off guard, I responded that by providing girls with programs that will build their leadership skills when they are young, we’re setting them up to be successful adults, with the job-skills and confidence they need to succeed.
But for the rest of the meeting I thought about it. I’m still thinking about it. I have no doubt that Girls in the Game’s programs not only improve the lives of the girls that are involved, but those girls create better, stronger communities for everyone. But can I prove this?
No society can reach its full potential if half the population isn’t reaching theirs. A community is stronger, and an economy is stronger, when all members of that community contribute. That’s what Girls in the Game does. We help girls recognize the value of what they can contribute to their communities. But it doesn’t stop there. We empower girls to teach others those same lessons which creates generations teaching and educating younger generations. That’s why girls are such a good investment. The return on the investment doesn’t end with each girl, but continues throughout her lifetime.
Let’s break it down. A typical member of our Teen Squad program may have been involved with Girls in the Game for five years. In elementary school, she learned how to play different sports and why it’s important to eat healthy. She didn’t think a whole lot about the long-term impact of those lessons but her parents noticed when she started talking about eating more vegetables and they joined her when she asked them to take a walk as a family after dinner. She didn’t see it, but she affected her family and improved the health of those around her.
In high school, she’s trained as a member of our Teen Squad on how to lead workshops for younger girls. She sees herself as a role model, and not just when she’s officially on duty as a Coach. She speaks up more in class and her teachers notice, her grades improve. She’s thinking about college and likes having goals to work toward. Her friends who aren’t in Girls in the Game notice too, and they join her when she suggests they attend an upcoming college night at her school.
This teen may not have been going down the wrong path, but Girls in the Game keeps her on the right one. More importantly, she inspires others to go down that path as well. She’s a leader now, and she likes it that way. This teen, like all teens involved with our Teen Squad program, will graduate high school and attend college where she’ll continue to lead and the lessons of Girls in the Game will stay with her.
Many of these girls will be mothers someday and they’ll teach their daughters and sons the same lessons they learned – how to be healthy and strong, the importance of teamwork, and how to set goals and work to achieve them.
At the UN discussion, the group talked a lot about how there needs to be a shift in mindset, from the top down, in order to achieve economic justice for everyone. That won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, and it will take a lot of work by a lot of people. But an investment in girls will ensure that it happens a lot faster. That’s just good economics.
For more information about UN Women and their work, visit the Step It Up Campaign for Gender Equality and Progress of the World’s Women Report.