I never connected with the “girl power” message. I didn’t wear those shirts that proclaimed the superiority of the feminine sex, shouting loudly in pink neon letters “Girls Rule!” The slogan seemed somewhat vacuous to me in its rhinestone-encrusted script. I have learned, however, that there is much more to giving myself “power” and confidence than this sugary-sweet catchphrase can convey. This summer at Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program, I realized that even though I still don’t see great meaning in the phrase “girl power,” I now truly believe in girls’ and women’s empowerment.
While participating this summer in the Young Women’s Political Leadership Program in Washington D.C., I realized the true power of women. I met fifty-one young women who are intent on changing the world – not only through political pursuits, but also through humanitarian and volunteer work. During this program, we dreamt up a number to represent ourselves: 2028, the year when each and every one of us will be eligible to run for the Presidency of the United States. This number has united us in a common goal to take action as confident women of the future, even though we may not all choose a path in politics.
In the course of the conference, Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, shared her work empowering women in developing countries. Ms. Nelson emphasized that real leadership is “leading change from wherever you are.” She cited the actions of women internationally, from a woman who fought human trafficking worldwide to a woman who opened a small school for her illiterate village community. Ms. Nelson’s words struck a chord with me as I realized that her statement applies not only to women in developing countries, but also to me. As a teenager and student, it is easy to succumb to the belief that I don’t have the power or the time to contribute to a cause or to make an impact, but Ms. Nelson made me recognize that true empowerment is taking action within your own circumstances.
When I returned home, I acted on this realization by applying to become a mentor for middle school girls – girls who are nearing the age when I began to take an active approach toward my own life. In this new position as a mentor, I wanted to spread what I have learned to other girls. The after-school discussions I have been holding with at-risk girls about body image, self-confidence, and goal-setting have been incredibly meaningful experiences to me.
As I reflect on this summer’s conference, I realize that I don’t have to wait for 2028, a date looming far in the future, to make an impact on the world. I view my actions in my immediate community as my first step towards larger efforts, and I am passionate about every step of the journey. I am empowered to act now.