A few weeks ago, I had the biggest, proudest grin on my face. I was literally smiling from ear to ear. My beautiful baby niece Ruby was coming into the church sanctuary and was about to be baptised.
Ruby is entering our world at a time when girls’ self-esteem has been plummeted by what psychologist Steve Biddulph describes as a ‘war on girlhood’. Our culture is full of identity thieves who are bombarding young people, particularly girls, with paradoxical messages which undermines their God-identity.
My hope for Ruby is that she will always know that she is loved, redeemed and chosen for a special purpose.
Hope is not just a word. Real hope spurs us to action. It fuels us to be so dissatisfied with the status quo that we’ll be the change we want to see in the world. But we need to put hope into action. Surrounded by a popular culture which both screams and whispers to girls ‘you are not enough’, how can we, as a church, empower a generation of girls, like Ruby, to live in Gospel hope?
With a rich global legacy of investing in girls for over 123 years, Girls’ Brigade Ministries has been exploring this very question. On International Day of the Girl 2015, we gathered together a group of leaders, activists and youth workers who are passionate about raising hope for girls at the first ever ‘UK Girl Gathering.’ It was a collaborative time of dreaming, hoping and looking forward - resulting in the production of what we've called The Manifesto (launched last week on International Women’s Day). Now we’re inviting you to join the UK Girl conversation too.
Inspired by the UK Girl conversation, here’s 5 ways which you and I can help raise hope for girls:
1. Cultivate identity capital
‘I am fearless.’ ‘I am loved.’ ‘I am a leader.’
These are some of the amazing bold statements which I’ve read from young women in a GB group in Australia. Over the past six months, GB Worldwide has been inviting its members to complete the following sentence: ‘Because of GB, I am…’ We’ve had some incredible feedback demonstrating the need for a counter-cultural hope-filled narrative for girls.
There is a real deficit of self-worth and esteem amongst young people, particularly girls. Our anxiety-inducing culture - a toxic mix of consumerism and liberal capitalism - is draining all their identity capital reserves. Identity capital means that each person knows who they are and who’s they are (Ephesians 1:11-12). In other words, we need to enable young people to understand that they are God’s image bearers with inestimable value and unchanging worth created for a mighty purpose.
Birthed by GB Ministries, koko is an innovative award-winning vlog aimed at inspiring a more hope-filled narrative for teenage girls on issues that matter to them like friendship, self-harm and relationships. Let’s build a culture of worth for all of God’s people, including girls.
How are you cultivating the identity capital reserves in young women?
2. Let girls lead
Last December at a Girls’ Brigade Africa gathering in Zimbabwe, my jaw literally dropped to the floor as young women were given the opportunity to share their stories with each other. I heard tremendous stories of resilience, overcoming obstacles, pursuing education and saying no to early marriage! These young women are leading in their communities, schools and churches and an inspiration to the peers in their own generation.
Their example demonstrated to me that inside and outside the UK, young women are refusing to be victims of the status quo. Girls are generation-shapers, hope-bringers and transformers of culture. I’m tired of hearing that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re the leaders of today. They have incredible spheres of influence, amazing gifts and fantastic potential.
By acknowledging that young women can lead and inspire us, we’re recognising that God uses all genders and people of all ages in his mission of restoration on earth. What an exciting and empowering biblical message! Let’s create space for girls to lead as well as equip them to do so.
How are you acknowledging that young women can lead and inspire us?
3. Invest in female leaders
Last year, I attended a leadership gathering for 20s and 30s organised by a prominent Christian organisation. Despite more women than men attending, most of the main teaching sessions were led by guys. Almost no female theologians or Bible characters were referenced during any talks. The unconscious (and definitely unintentional) message conveyed to some of us was that women aren’t leaders.
On the other hand, GB is passionate about equipping female leaders to serve God in the world. That’s why we’ve launched The Esther Collective.
We need to ensure that we are supporting and equipping women in leadership roles. It’s important: girls cannot aspire to be, what they cannot see. Unconscious bias can reinforce a wider culture of inequality, even if it is unintentional.
Are you intentional about raising and profiling women into leadership roles?
4. Listen to the voice of girls
By giving girls a platform to tell their stories – whether it is in a youth group or online – we’re improving their confidence and demonstrating that we believe their experiences and opinions are of value and importance. But equally important, we’re also opening ourselves up to being inspired and transformed by them as well.
I’ve seen the power of girls’ stories in action many times. As a Church, we need to listen to the hopes, concerns and frustrations of young people, including girls. GB Ministries is exploring how we can enable the real and honest voice and experiences of girls to be at the centre of discussion around faith and culture in the UK.
How are you listening to the voice of girls around you?
5. Join the UK Girl conversation
The Manifesto is a way of starting a UK Girl conversation. GB Ministries hope that it will prompt questions and facilitate discussion about the need to intentionally invest in girls in the UK & Ireland. We’d love to hear your voice in the conversation. Do you agree or disagree? How do you think the church can raise hope for girls? You can join it in three ways – online, face to face and on social media.
Together, let’s continue to turn up the volume of hope for girls.
Dr Claire Rush is Participation & Advocacy Co-ordinator for The Girls’ Brigade England & Wales. She will be blogging here next Monday on how the Church can turn up the volume of hope for girls.