What if the voices of young women in communities around the world dominated global media? How would our world be different?
I recently had the opportunity to work with eight young women from East Los Angeles in a media-training program aimed at bringing out these voices. It's called Global Girl Media.
When I sat with the girls to talk about how they wanted to use their voices, they told me:
"I want women who are in an abusive relationship to know that they are not alone and that they can ask for help."
"I want to break the stereotype of pregnant teenagers."
"I want to talk about sexual harassment between teachers and students at my school."
"I want to share how the budget cuts at my school have affected me, and what I think we can do to save the library."
Most media depicts young women as vacuous, boy crazy, and obsessed with clothes and makeup. While boys and makeup might be of interest to these young women, there is a huge depth to them that the world is currently missing out on.
For starters, here is a video the Global Girls made two weeks ago about why their voices are important.
The training that I participated in was the second annual Global Girl Media Training Academy. The first was last summer -- a pilot project called KICK IT UP!, which trained 30 high-school age girls in Soweto, South Africa and East Los Angeles during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This year Global Girl Media provided training to eight teenage girls from underserved communities in Los Angeles and 10 HIV-positive girls from Soweto, South Africa.
In South Africa, the girls created video, blog and mobile reports on issues related to HIV/AIDS, gender violence, life in the townships and South African culture. One of the young women, Annah Tseko, was even singled out by Michele Obama during her trip to South Africa, and held her up as a model leader in her community.
Global Girl Reporters in Soweto, South Africa shoot "Rape by Someone You Trust."
In Los Angeles, the girls learned interviewing, camera and sound skills, as well as how to write blogs and use social media. They are currently shooting, writing and producing stories on teen pregnancy, obesity, sex trafficking, and an alternative school in Los Angeles that is thriving in the midst of the budget crisis. The Global Girls' work will be featured in an exhibition focused on women's and girls' rights globally at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in October. They have also been invited to guest blog for Women's Campaign International.
"I think Global Girl Media is important so girls will know where to stand up for what they believe in and to find their inner confidence." -- Karina Martinez, LA Global Girl Reporter
It's particularly gratifying for me to be one of the professional women encouraging and inspiring young women to use their voice and speak about what's true for them. A lot of us in the media industry didn't necessarily have that support in our earlier years. In fact, many of the women who are at the top of their game in media had to get there in essentially, a man's way. In those days, I don't think it was ever about women supporting women. But today, there is a growing sisterhood of support across generations and we are moving forward together. I believe the more we work together as women and girls, the sooner we will recognize the immense power of our feminine nature. This is the way we will change the world.
Wendy Garcia, LA Global Girl, helps her Global Girl colleague, Imani, frame a shot. "I think Global Girl Media is important to let people know that I am here too, that I have feelings, that I have thoughts and lots of things inside of me that I want other people to hear," says Wendy.
"At Global Girl Media, we are part of a strong female group where our economic status and ethnicity doesn't matter. We hope to inspire more girls around the world to let their voices be heard." -- Elizabeth Flores, LA Global Girl Reporter
In an interview with Amie Williams, co-founder and Executive Director of Global Girl Media, she shared with me that working with these young women has opened her up to a world of hope. "I gain so much from being around a young woman who looks at a brick wall (forget the glass ceiling) and barbed wire fence, walking to school in a neighborhood that is defined by barriers, and she has so much hope," she said.
Although it's still about 85 percent male in most of the thought leadership positions in the U.S., including Congress, the news media, and Hollywood, I am certain this will change. These girls are too smart to continue in the direction we are at present, and we women now have the power to train and develop the next generation of female leaders.
As Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour, said in an interview with Global Girl Reporters Tobego Tsotesi and Rocio Ortega at the International Women's Media Conference earlier this year: "Women have come a long way in the media, but we want them to come a long way when it comes to making decisions about what's covered and whose covering it, and making sure that women are both a part of the stories that are covered and who are doing the reporting."
With programs like Global Girl Media, women will be the decision makers in media.
"Today we interviewed a 14-year-old girl who lives in downtown LA who has a 2-year-old child. This means she got pregnant at age 12! I was blown away, horrified, actually, until I watched the gentleness and attentiveness with which our Global Girl Reporter interviewed her. There was no judgment, there were no leading questions, just a genuine interaction with this young girl's experience caring for her child. It truly humbled me, and reinforced in a profound way why I think these sorts of stories, told from the directly affected, unaltered by outsiders, can be transformative." - Amy Williams, Executive Director of Global Girl Media
When I asked 16-year-old Global Girl Reporter, Denise Peralta, why her voice is important, she told me: "My voice is important because the knowledge I carry is the key to a better world." I couldn't agree more.
To watch videos and read blogs by Global Girl Media, please visit www.globalgirlmedia.org.
All photos courtesy of Global Girl Media.