By: Lindsay Menard-Freeman, Women Deliver
Girls are powerful agents for change. The global health community has proven time and time again that when girls are healthy, educated and safe, they can move mountains. The Adolescent Girls and Leadership Initiative (AGALI) has demonstrated that girl-centered leadership and advocacy programs work for girls, and for their families and communities. Leveraging these results, AGALI is launching Let Girls Lead, a new film and participatory media initiative that amplifies the power of girls to create their own solutions, tell their own stories, and lead social change around the world.
AGALI enables leaders in Central America and Africa to advocate for laws, policies, and funding benefiting girls by providing grants, training, and technical assistance. Juany García Perez, who attended Guatemala’s first AGALI workshop in 2009, is one of those leaders. At the time, she was working at the Association for Research, Development and Education (IDEI), with the goal of improving conditions for girls in the indigenous Maya Mam communities of Concepción Chiquirichapa and San Miguel Sigüilá in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. In these communities, girls had little access to education or healthcare; only 14 percent of girls completed primary school, and more than half had their first baby before turning 18.
After participating in AGALI and learning a range of new advocacy skills, a lightbulb went off for Juany. She decided she didn’t want to advocate for girls, but rather she wanted to advocate with them. AGALI’s intensive program gave Juany the additional tools, knowledge, skills, and funding she needed to empower girls to become advocates and leaders who could raise their own voices.
With both training and financial support from AGALI, Juany returned to Concepción to begin a 12-month capacity-building program for 9-16 year old indigenous girls. Many of the girls had little formal education, but eagerly learned skills and launched strategies to create community change. This included a robust campaign to engage community leaders through public speaking, media outreach, and grassroots organizing.
Their results of were nothing short of remarkable. Elba Velasquez, Emelin Cabrera, and the other girls participating in AGALI’s initiative, applied their new skills to advocate for improved education and health care for girls. They organized community events and forums with local officials, mobilized townspeople at public forums, created active commissions that held public talks on domestic violence and girls’ health, offered peer counseling, and delivered radio programs in Mam and Spanish about sexuality and teen pregnancy prevention.
As a result of the girls’ advocacy, the mayor of Concepción eventually approved and signed policies developed by the girl advocates and IDEI, and allocated 0.5% of the total municipal budget to open a Municipal Office of Childhood and Adolescence. Two of the girls supported by AGALI were later appointed to the Municipal Commission of Children and Youth, becoming the first girls in Guatemala to sit on a town board of directors.
Juany, Elba and Emelin, are now the stars of an upcoming short film, ¡PODER!, that highlights their success as a part of a larger global campaign, Let Girls Lead. In addition to the film, Let Girls Lead’s campaign is launching an online global platform that will enable girls to tell their own powerful stories of inspiring leadership. Through Let Girls Lead’s interactive media platform, girls and their allies will submit 1-minute video clips highlighting girls’ powerful stories of leadership and social change. Let Girls Lead will launch at the Social Good Summit on September 23rd, sharing the diversity and power of girls’ leadership for a global audience.
The message is clear: Girls don’t have to be victims. “These girls really have become amazing community leaders,” said Denise Dunning, founder of AGALI and Let Girls Lead. “Girls, even those facing tremendous obstacles, can become powerful agents for change.”
Photo credit: Lorena Gomez-Barris, AGALI Staff