Part 3: Providing equitable opportunities for girls to join clubs and organizations
By Danelle Woodman
There are a lot of organizations available to women in Los Angeles County. So many! However, I found in my time researching women’s clubs in the area that searching for girls’ clubs is the hardest. If you search “girls’ clubs”, you will receive a long list of organizations such as Girls Girl Collective, Girls Scouts, and Girl Up. The big problem, I soon found, was that many of these clubs and organizations are large and offer satellite programs to different cities in the United States. That made me wonder about what is available locally.
When I was younger, I did not have many opportunities to join girls’ clubs. I grew up in a small town, and when I came to Azusa for college I was overwhelmed with how many clubs and organizations were at a girl’s disposal. However, even though communities offer these opportunities, they are not always available year-round or they require a fee that makes it difficult for low-income families to afford. Then there is a question of whether or not girls are interested in the program. There are various factors to consider when starting clubs for girls. That then led me to ask, why are there more hoops for girls to jump through in order to get connected with fellow girls?
I had two amazing opportunities to talk to two different women’s organizations that serve women from the ages of 30 – 80. When I had the chance to listen to their stories and write about the organizations they are a part of for the previous two articles in this series, I was hopeful to find that same deep connection within the realm of girls’ clubs. When I started to research girls’ clubs in the local community, I realized the limited range of opportunities for girls to join clubs if they did not have transportation, the financial means to join, or the access to a club they are interested in.
Regardless of how limited organizations geared toward girls might be, Los Angeles (LA) County, and the San Gabriel Valley in particular, continue to fill the gap through different programs. There are a handful of notable clubs and organizations that provide mentorship, leadership development, and self-love for girls in our communities. Some noteworthy organizations are the Girl Scouts, Little Princess Academy, YWCA, and Girls on the Run. Each organization includes some of the components that the Women Strong Organization explains are important factors for girls to thrive. They include:
- A safe environment with relational support.
- Education that provides access to different forms of literacy in areas such finances, nutrition, body image, communication, or leadership.
- Mentorship opportunities with older girls or women.
Does this mean we should stop here and allow the organizations we do have to empower all the girls in LA County? Yes and no. For one, these organizations should keep doing what they’re doing. By meeting the girls where they are at through sports, mentorship, educational extracurriculars, and leadership opportunities, these organizations help solve negative gender expectations and disparities. The Canadian Women’s Foundation found that “over 50% of all girls say they wish they were someone else; 9 out of 10 girls say they feel pressure from the media to be thin; 50% of girls in grade 6 are on a diet; [and] 36% of girls in grade 6 say they are self-confident [while] 14% of girls in grade 10 say they are self-confident.”
However, if we continue to encourage more girl-only programs that are fully accessible, the benefits and results would transcend the girls who participate. Not only can girl-only clubs help girls with self-esteem, but they can improve the lives of our community. According to the United Nations Foundation, investing in girls through education and empowerment not only improves their healthy and career opportunities, but it can improve the economy and mortality rate.
As I dug a bit deeper into what girls need, I recognized that accessibility, whether that is financially, geographically, or based on interest, is a necessary component to ensuring that girls receive an equitable opportunity to be a part of an organization. As expressed by the Girls Scouts organization website, providing these equitable opportunities allow for the attention to shift to what girls need now in the environment they are growing up in. They explain, “Girls are already mixed in with boys in so many areas, but because of society’s stereotypes about girls and the ways girls are treated—either consciously or subconsciously—by the people in their lives, girls are less likely to take risks or engage in competition in environments where boys are present.”
Girls-only, or women-only, organizations do not form with the intention of being exclusive. When I talked with women of Alive & Well and the Quilting Guild, I learned that these organizations are not just about equality, but equity. As a woman myself, I have come to understand the significance of other women in my life. Whether I am with my mom, my sisters, my best friends or other women I mentor, I feel the most empowered when I am surrounded by women. More often than not, the struggles I experience are often mutual with the women in my life, and there is no extra step that I need to take to be understood. In a world that often requires me to take that extra step to be heard, being surrounded by women, or girls, as a child made me see that being female was not a bad thing. Being emotional or upset about something a boy would be upset about taught me that my reactions were valid. If all girls had the opportunity to grow up in clubs and organizations that foster that understanding, I believe that they would see the strength within themselves that women all around the world had to learn to gather as they grew up.
Over the course of this series I have learned that when women are together it is strength; but when girls are together, that is magic. As a woman who once was a little girl, I hope we are able to empower more magic within our communities even after Women’s History Month.