Female empowerment and its place in education

Recently I ran a female empowerment session with my year five girls group at ReachOut, where each activity was based around the idea of powerful women and issues that my mentees and mentors face as females.

We started with a quick round of Who am I? The classic sticky note on forehead game but with the twist of powerful women on them. Women that ranged from Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks and Florence Nightingale to the modern day where Beyoncé slays and young women such as Malala make their impressive mark on the world. I was shocked that not just my mentees but my mentors had no idea who these women where. Even Beyoncé! One mentee couldn’t get past guessing Cardi B. These women are probably the more iconic of those that paved a way to empowering women. I could have thrown Mary Anning out there (one of my personal favourites, give her a google) but I thought I best keep things simple. We got there in the end with a few prompts and many clues. The mentees and mentors now have some examples of past female empowerment lead by women themselves.

After some academic work, we spent the second half of the session discussing what hurdles we face as a result of being female. To get the ball rolling and the brain clogs churning we watched a short clip on Misty Copeland, who has made history as the first African American female Principal Dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. This was not the only obstacle she faced and as a group we discussed them. We then moved on to reflect more on our own lives. What issues do we face in our everyday lives, what hurdles are in our way simply because we are female. A big question to pose to a group of ten year olds and university students. Not to my surprise, the question was tackled with energy and maturity. Unsurprisingly, we managed to come up with quite a few.

After this brainstorm, we moved on to thinking about how our character strengths: staying power, good judgment, self-control and fairness, could help us face these issues. We reflected on what character strengths our previous female role models have displayed and where they used them to overcome certain situations. From this, in mentee/mentor pairs, everyone wrote a speech about a hurdle of their choice and how ReachOut character strengths could help them overcome it! Here is one of those awesome speeches:

‘Don’t give up even when things are tough. My brother said “you can’t play Batman, because you’re a girl”. Girls can like WHATEVER they want. Don’t let someone choose for you because you have your own mind. Don’t stop your dreams because someone else says you have to. Go for it, you can be anything you want to be. Don’t stop and keep going.’

I have been a mentor at a girls club project at ReachOut and have now ran two different girls projects myself. I have noticed each time that the girls are brimming with ideas and opinions but do not have the confidence or self-esteem to believe in them or share them. This for me (and I am sure the rest of you!) does not sit right. This activity definitely encouraged the girls to speak out about things they are passionate about and has stuck with them. Ideas from this session have popped up in future ones and there is a notable difference in confidence. Even my mentors left feeling empowered!

Young people should be empowered in many senses, empowered in their ideas and opinions and making their mark on the world. They are the future. Empowering young girls in my mind (and it should be in everyone else’s) is incredibly important. Young people (epically young women) should know they have a voice and the ability to change things that they do not think is right. An activity as small as this can sew a seed into making someone think “Yeah! you know what I don’t like this and I have the ability and character strengths to do something about it”. For years and years half the population had no voice and it is important that we continue to grow it, BIG and LOUD and INCREDIBLY NOISY. So it has no chance of not being heard again.

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“At first, I was really hesitant to take on the Project Leader role, despite having mentored with ReachOut. However, with the support of the team I’ve really developed my skills. For example, at the Mentee Graduation, I stood up in front of 200 people and presented an award which is something I would never ever have been able to have done before, and isn’t an opportunity I could gain in my other situations.”

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Victor Adekunle, 18 years old, ReachOut Ambassador, London

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“When I first my mentee, she was very reluctant to participate in the sessions. Now, I see a completely different person! Her confidence has grown and she is happy to join in! She still has some self-doubt when it comes to academic work, but that’s what I hope to help her overcome, because she is a very bright person!

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CASE STUDY 01

“There are more distractions than ever outside of school, and the commitment of our students to attend ReachOut sessions is testament to the value they place on the relationships they foster there, and the challenge and enjoyment they provide.

ReachOut’s focus on communication skills and character development has become an important aspect of our provision of support for these students. The opportunity to relate to a positive role- model other than their usual teachers is key to the programme’s impact, and the evidence of this has been seen in the students’ attendance, resilience and to their overall progress across all the subjects in the school.”

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