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Happy International Day of the Girl!

October 11th marks the date of the UN’s declaration to celebrate gender justice by declaring it the International Day of the Girl. According to the U.S. Day of the Girl’s website, the United Nations Resolution 66/170 says, “Empowerment of and investment in girls are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights.”

Events to celebrate Day of the Girl are being held around the globe, with the closest event to Iowa City taking place in Pittsburgh, PA. Despite the distance, you can participate in the conversation on gender rights via Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, or by visiting www.dayofthegirl.org.

Though no Iowa City-specific events are registered in partnership with Day of the Girl, a community organization called Girls Rock! Iowa City is advancing similar principles of empowerment and equality in its volunteer-based rock-n-roll summer camp for girls ages 8-16.

Girls Rock! camps have been popping up around the country for about a decade, but it wasn’t until Chicago’s camp volunteers, Merit Bickner and Alyse Burnside came to Laurie Haag of the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC) that the program kicked off in Iowa City.

The program was set up in 2014 through Prairie Voices, a nonprofit that runs the Iowa Women’s Music Festival.

“Iowa City has a great history with feminist activism and as a place where great arts happen, so it makes sense that the community would support the philosophy of Girls Rock,” said Laurie Haag.

Girls Rock! enforces the idea that girls can and should participate in rock bands and learn the technical skills associated with being a drummer, guitarist or bassist.

 “The camp is important for girls because they don’t get messages that they can do this sort of thing or opportunities to just try it out,” said Laurie Haag. “Social pressure is a very powerful force. Messages young girls get tend to tell them what they are supposed to want to do and how they should look or act in a limiting sense, not help them do the things they really want to or be the people that they want to be.”

Girls Rock! Iowa City Board of Directors’ Natasha Finnegan-Kennel and Jordan Adams elaborated on the variety of skills taught at the camp, in a joint email response.

“Other than the music skills that they learn when learning their instruments and playing with others, they learn skills such as communication when they work with the band and the rest of the camp,” said Finnegan-Kennel and Adams. “We have different workshops throughout the week that highlight issues such as realistic beauty standards, boundaries, and the history of women in rock music. We do activities such as shout outs about why other people in the camp rock to help increase self confidence and self love.”

Haag recalls a time when the young campers took action on the larger issue of male dominance and unequal gender representation in the music industry.

The girls were making collages out of old magazines when they noticed that Rolling Stone in particular did not have any pictures of girls playing instruments within its pages. Haag said they decided to write to Rolling Stone to tell them that “girls play instruments too.”

“8-year-olds were holding Rolling Stone accountable for their sexism,” said Haag. “It was an awesome moment.”

Haag, Finnegan-Kennel and Adams all agreed that the highlight of the week for campers, counselors and volunteers alike is the final “showcase.” Girls take turns performing onstage with their bands while audience members support them with congratulatory cheers and positive praise.

“All of the girls are incredibly supportive of each other,” said Finnegan-Kennel and Adams. “You see it as they get ready and remind each other that they’ll do great and that they look awesome, to afterwards where they all congratulate and praise each other on how well they did. This is one of the many times throughout the week where you’re able to see young women lifting each other up and supporting each other’s expression.”

Haag said that she hopes young women—especially those who attend the camp—learn not to be limited by other people’s expectations of them.

“Don’t just try to conform to the box that is socially constructed for you—pursue your dreams, whatever they are,” said Haag. “Be yourself and take the time to figure out what that means for you.”

In 2014, the camp ran for a single one-week session, teaching a class of 25 students, and in 2015, the camp tried two one-week, back-to-back sessions that reached about 40 students. Haag said the plans for this year’s session are still being developed.

For more information on Girls Rock! Iowa City, or to become a volunteer, visit their Facebook page here.

Photo Credit: Girls Rock! Iowa City Facebook photos

I am in my senior year and last semester at the University of Iowa, majoring in journalism, minoring in English and pursuing a certificate in creative writing. My passions include writing (poetry, short fiction and anything my mind must expel onto the page), working out and spending time with my friends. I stand by the aphorism, "the pen is mightier than the sword" and hope to use my skills as a writer to positively impact as many people on this planet as I can.
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