Who (Doesn’t) Run The World? Girls.
Only 20% of political leaders in the world are women. Women leaders are under-represented in every country, from Nepal, where my organization works, to the United States, where only 17% of Congress is female. In 2010, I co-founded a leadership development organization for young women in Kathmandu, Nepal, because I strongly believe that the lack of female leaders is one of the most enduring forms of inequality in the 21st century.
Women are absent in corporate boardrooms, parliaments, peace negotiating tables and almost all major institutions around the world. For every Hillary Clinton and Marissa Mayer, there are thousands of women who do not break the glass ceiling.
While women are shut out of the institutions of power, they often face the brunt of poverty and violence. In Nepal, 1/3 of girls aged 15 to 19 are married and 60% of women are illiterate. The solutions to these problems are within communities, and often in the hands of young women. They have the vision and creativity to solve the issues plaguing their communities, but they lack the necessary resources and tools.
Education was and is crucial for women to secure equal rights and opportunities. As we have seen in the United States and are now seeing in developing countries, it is drastically altering women’s lives. But it is simply not enough. In the United States, women now constitute the majority of students at undergraduate and graduate levels, but we still see a dearth of female CEOs and politicians.
This is why leadership development is a critical step in female empowerment.
Many of the girls we work with in our organization had never pictured themselves as leaders. On the first day of our Leadership Institute, we asked the girls how powerful they were on a scale of 1-10. They said, “not very powerful” (a 1-3 range). By the end of the Institute, they said they were “very powerful” (9 to 10 range). One of our participants, Sharmila, told us that before the leadership training, she never felt like she could be a leader. But now, she feels like she can lead anything at any time.
Young women need to be given the tools and opportunities to be leaders. They need to be mentored, to have their opinions valued, to be told that they can become leaders. That they have what it takes.
The female leadership crisis is not just a Nepali problem. It is an American problem and a global problem. In the US, only 21% of girls believe they have what it takes to be a leader. 8 is the peak age for girls’ leadership ambitions. We cannot expect young women to face the pressures of the media, gender stereotypes and societal expectations alone.
My dream in my lifetime is for women to represent 50% of all leaders. It’s going to take big changes: legal and societal changes, but also programs like Women LEAD that work on the individual, school and community level.
There is hope. Many young women want to lead – and one day, soon, they will have every opportunity to do so.
My organization Women LEAD launched our first crowd funding campaign to provide scholarships for 175 youth to attend our leadership development program.
We would love your support! Your contribution will provide young women leaders with scholarships that will change their lives, their schools and their communities.
For more information about Women LEAD, visit its website at www.women-lead.org
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