Girls Inc. Exercises Democracy

'She Votes' Mock Election Teaches Civic Responsibility

This month we take our mission — inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold — to a new level. More than two centuries after the Office of the President was established in 1789, Hillary Clinton made history as the first female presidential candidate of a major party. Now is the time to build on that first.

At Girls Inc. of Carpinteria and Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, our two local Girls Inc. affiliate organizations, we celebrate this achievement, and we experience a profound, collective shift in the perception of what’s possible: that a woman can be a leader at the highest level and for the highest elected office in our nation.

While this election did not yield our first female president, the path forward for women and girls has become more illuminated. No other election in the U.S. has focused more attention on the treatment and abilities of women. No other election has symbolized more our progress made — and the progress still to be made — toward gender equality. And no other election put under a microscope the gender double-standards around physical appearance, character, likeability, and qualifications that still exist for women seeking leadership roles — whether it be in the workplace or for elected office.

Empowering girls to break past these obstacles is at the core of Girls Inc., a national organization that for 150 years has been a leader in the movement to help educate and empower girls.

Earlier this month, our local affiliates participated in “She Votes,” a Girls Inc. national educational initiative to teach girls about exercising their (future) voting rights and their roles in civic participation. The programming and activities we held aim to empower girls to begin considering for themselves the possibility of one day becoming a candidate for a public office.

Our girls were asked to share why their vote is important and responded with answers such as: “I vote because I need to make my voice heard and support the issues I believe in” and “I vote because my vote is my voice and I want to be heard.” These are the responses from girls who are already considering their place within the democratic process. The “She Votes” initiative culminated with a mock election in which nearly 300 girls from Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, and Goleta cast their votes for the four presidential candidates on the ballot.

By teaching girls about our country’s voting process, and their rights within that process, we send them a clear message that their engagement with our democracy is inextricably linked to their futures. We teach them that they are powerful, and that each of their voices matter.

And while the mock and the real elections are over, our work continues to address the significant barriers women and girls face on the street, in schools, and in the workplace. The objectification of women, gender bias, stereotypes, and limiting messages threaten girls’ healthy development, safety, and long-term well-being. And for this reason, our efforts continue to be necessary and relevant — and we will continue to advocate more than ever on behalf of all girls’ futures.

To be clear, the work we have to do is not, and must not be, a partisan effort. Supporting girls has a ripple effect on their families and their communities. When girls are empowered to pursue their dreams, they pursue higher education and graduate from college, they increase their income, they gain economic independence, they serve as role models, and they invest in future generations. Supporting this cycle of progress for girls breaks the cycle of poverty — and that is a goal that transcends party affiliations.

We do not do this work alone. Together, with donors, supporters, the community, and girls’ advocates, we continue to provide girls with life-changing programs and experiences so they can realize their full potential and grow up to become strong, smart, and bold women.

We begin this work by celebrating those qualified female candidates who were victorious at our local and state levels. We congratulate the four women of color newly elected to the U.S. Senate. And we applaud Hillary Clinton for her ongoing commitment to the work for equality that still needs to be done in our country — the work in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, in our offices and in our elections — to let all women and girls know that they are strong and resilient, and deserve to be celebrated for their individual identities and inherent strengths

“To all of the little girls, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” —Hillary Clinton’s concession speech

As we look down the road, we are energized and inspired by what girls and women are poised to achieve. Together, we can tackle the barriers standing in the way of every girl valuing her whole self and becoming “the first” in her own right.

We are grateful to the Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, and Goleta communities for standing with Girls Inc. as we stand even taller for girls and their futures.

Barbara Ben-Horin is the CEO of Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara. Victoria Juarez is executive director of Girls Inc. of Carpinteria.


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