The Day of the Girl DC is modeled after the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child which is celebrated annually on October 11. On December 19, 2011 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170, International Day of the Girl Child, to draw attention and awareness to the inequality girls face globally because of their gender.
She’s the First is a national nonprofit organization that sponsors girls’ education in developing nations by fundraising money to send girls to school. The sponsored girls become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school. American University’s chapter president, Lorraine Brontë Magee, founded a chapter of She’s the First at AU in 2012. Two years later, the club has grown drastically in both membership and annual fundraising.
This year’s summit consisted of five panels on topics ranging from the feminist voice in politics, gender-based violence, women in the workplace, women in STEM and current events in girls education. Throughout the event, audience members were encouraged to live tweet questions and comments using the hashtag #DayoftheGirlDC. By searching this hashtag, you can continue to follow the conversation about girls’ equality and read more about the summit.
The first panel was titled “Feminist Voices in Politics” and featured a diverse group of speakers including keynote speaker Stephenie Foster, Melissa Richmond, Vice President of Running Start, Clare Bresnahan, Programs Director for Women’s Campaign Fund and She Should Run, Lauren Toomey, Board Member of Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, Karen O’Connor, Founder of AU’s Women & Politics Institute, and Marcy Stech, National Press Secretary for EMILY’S List.
The keynote speaker of the summit was the distinguished Stephenie Foster, Senior Advisor for the US State Department of Global Women’s Issues. According to Foster there are 65 million girls worldwide who are not in school. She strongly supports She’s the First’s mission to help girls graduate from secondary school, because as she stressed, there tends to be a global focus on getting girls into primary school, but not nearly the focus for making sure they continue their education through secondary school. Foster explained that girls who graduate secondary school marry four years later in life and on average have two fewer children than girls who do not complete their education. In addition, the infant mortality rate decreases by 5-10% and girls who complete secondary school are more likely to join the labor force and give back to their community’s economy.
Karen O’Connor spoke in detail about the importance of college women getting experience through internships and volunteering. In addition, she expressed the need for more women in political office as well as in judicial positions. O’Connor stressed satisfaction with the current Supreme Court of the United States, saying that with recent 5:4 votes, “every opportunity SCOTUS has had lately they have chosen to side with corporations saying they have rights that women don’t.”
Stephenie Foster stated that the country with highest number of women in parliament is surprisingly Rwanda. So why is the United States Congress only comprised of 20% women when we live in the most privilege country in the world? Mary Stech added that women in the government is crucial because the current government conversation about sexual assault in the military would never have happened without women politicians. Lauren Toomey expressed that the best way for a woman to be empowered and be elected into office is by first finding a mentor and “sticking with her.”
“We need every single woman in this room to step up and be a leader. don’t back down,” said Clare Bresnahan. Bresnahan said she has wanted to run since the third grade and hopes to be elected to office one day. One of She Should Run’s initiatives is Name it. Change it. which is a campaign that targets female objectification by the media. Bresnahan shared that if the media refers to a woman politician’s appearance, whether in a positive or negative light, it is likely to decrease voter confidence in the politician and her qualifications for the the job. Thus, it is important not to ask female politicians about what they are wearing during interviews, or focusing on Michelle Obama’s arms. Instead, journalists should treat female politicians just as they do male politicians. If you wouldn’t ask a male politician why he chose to wear a red tie, don’t ask a female politician why she chose to wear pink sneakers during a filibuster.
The second panel, of interest to collegiette women was on gender-based violence, commonly referred to as GBV. The discussion opened asking panelists to define rape culture and the role sexual violence plays today worldwide. Daniel Rappaport, AU’s Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator and Victim Advocate, defined rape culture as “any type of condoning this unacceptable sexually violent culture” we live in. He stressed that rape culture is prevalent and readily accepted in our daily lives, but he offered three steps that can be taken to begin to combat rape culture:
Although these three steps sound simple, they are quite complex and as Rappaport said, “everyone has to be on board” and willing to combat rape culture in order to eradicate it. In addition, trying to eliminate rape culture can’t be a “one stop shop.” One poster or one workshop isn’t going to solve rape culture. “I only get 12 minutes at orientation to help untrain every freshman’s acceptance of rape culture,” Rappaport said, and that is not enough.
Gender-based violence is often seen as a ‘women’s issue’, but men are also victims and survivors of sexual violence and harassment. Joel Davis, the Executive Director of Youth to End Sexual Violence and a student at AU, stated that sexual violence is “not limited to one gender or one age range.” He explained that gender equality is necessary across the board. For instance, by having gender equality in politics and more women in office, those women can then help to tackle gender-based violence, such as sexual assault in the military. Davis encouraged audience members to become involved with the He for She campaign and advocated for girls education and teaching survivors of GBV ways to engage back into their communities. “Girls are vital economic tools to their communities,” Davis said.
Another highlight of the gender-based violence panel was Holly Kearl, journalist and founder of Stop Street Harassment. Kearl worked with the American Association of University Women to publish a study researching college sexual assault and rape in the military. During the panel Kearl expressed the need for conversations about masculinities and how to engage men in the conversation when talking about gender-based violence. Since it is not simply a ‘women’s issue’ it is important to make sure men are involved in all aspects of discussing and trying to dismantle rape culture.