05/17/2012 10:00 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

Finding Solutions to the Challenges Facing Young Women Today

Nineteen percent of girls in the city of San Francisco are actually overweight, but nearly double that amount -- 37 percent -- wrongly believe they are too heavy. Why do so many of our young women have this distorted sense of self and troubled self-image?

In a landmark new study, to be released next week, the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women examines serious issues faced by our city's girls over the past 10 years. The release will coincide with a town hall discussion on June 2, co-hosted by and the Department on the Status of Women, that will engage the larger community in a conversation about the future of our young women, and what we can do to improve their lives.

The heated political and social debates of the past few months in particular have surely exposed just how far we are from true gender equality in our country. From arguing over the value of women's work in and out of the home to who controls women's bodies, these conversations have been welcome -- yet focused almost exclusively on adult women. But what about the impact of these debates on young girls growing up in America today? Young women of color? Those living close to if not below the poverty line, neglected, if not in and out of foster care? What is the responsibility of local government and communities to make the lives of all our girls better?

The department's new report focuses on three key areas for girls in San Francisco: Health, Safety and Success. Despite some evidence of progress over the past decade, we found troubling facts about the self-worth of girls in each category.

In general, girls are more physically active, have lower overall rates of depression and are getting arrested far less than 10 years ago. However, rates of attempted suicide have actually increased for both boys and girls since 2000, and African-American girls, in particular, continue to be overrepresented in poverty, foster care, and juvenile hall. This year alone, about one in four Hispanic girls will be involved in a physical fight at school (which is significantly higher than the general population of girls). And we've made no progress in curbing dating violence, with the same percentage of girls (7 percent) facing it today, as a decade ago.

In the 2011 Sundance documentary, Miss Representation, Jennifer points out that the average American teenager consumes nearly 11 hours of media a day -- including TV, video games and the Internet -- and that women and girls are almost exclusively celebrated in media (and therefore the larger culture) for their youth, beauty and sexuality. Meanwhile, in reality TV shows, which are only increasing in popularity, women are irresponsibly and wrongly portrayed as bitchy, catty, manipulative, vindictive, and often competitive with one another.

Is it any wonder, then, that many of our girls grow up with such low self-esteem?

As an organization, (Miss Representation's social action campaign) seeks to interrupt patterns of sexism in the media and shift the cultural mindset around what is possible for women and girls. We do this all through our social action campaigns and an expansive education strategy which provides women and girls (and men and boys alike) the tools to be critical of, and liberated from, the media's limiting messages.

For this reason, we are co-hosting the San Francisco Girl Up Town Hall. This will be the first of many similar events around the country where will engage local youth in a conversation with thought leaders, educators, business persons, policy makers, and parents to find solutions to the specific challenges facing young women today, our end goal being to ensure their healthy, safety, and future success in life.

If we really want to see a better tomorrow for our girls, we must include them in the national debates around gender equality today. Please join us for this important conversation!

For more information click here.