Emma Cooper, one of Hardy Girls Healthy Women’s Girls Advisory Board Members, applied to be a part of International Day of the Girl Speak Out. International Day of the Girl is on October 11, 2013, is a day to recognize and celebrate the activism of girls as agents of change in their lives and their community. The Speak Out will provide a space for girls, like Emma, to engage in global action to speak with governments and United Nations agencies about how governments and agencies can better support the work girls are doing. Check out her interview Emma submitted.

Share the story of your activist project from its beginning until today:

My passion for women’s studies and rights is an insatiable beast that I can’t feed enough. I’ve fed books, essays and plays to the beast. I’ve written emails to politicians explaining why they should advocate for a woman’s right to choose. I’ve had discussions with my friends. I’ve marched for my rights as a girl. For the beast, this is never enough and it never will be. It needs action to fill its grumbling tummy, its never-ending appetite.  This is where my work with the Girls Advisory Board (GAB) of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women (HGHW) comes into play. I joined GAB last year. It seemed to be the perfect place to begin making change happen. The members of GAB are all high school-aged girls with an ardor for action. We act as role models to younger girls and help them to become strong women. Annually, we plan and host the Girl’s Unlimited Conference (GU) and lead workshops within the conference that aim to educate girls. The workshops are on everything from debunking myths about feminism, to redefining beauty, to using theater and story telling as a tool for education and social change.  Being a member of GAB is truly an honor.

What is a core challenge that girls in your community face and how has your project addressed this?

Madison Morin, 11, of Maine, says girls worry too much about conforming. “Why try to do that when you can just stand out? I’m trying to show girls that it shouldn’t always be that way. I’m trying to let people know they should be themselves.” The presentations at the GU Conference inspired Madison to challenge the assumption that girls need to care about thinness, shopping, and “looking hot.” Presentations on female social norms and other topics helped Madison think critically about peer pressure, begin taking risks, and become a leader. She asks her peers questions that aren’t always popular. She wears a “This is What an Activist Looks Like” pin at her school. Madison is a Hardy Girl.

What makes your partnership or project unique?

As a little girl, I remember being obsessed with “the older girls.” Everything the older girls told me was Truth. They were who I aspired to be. The partnership between GAB and HGHW is unique because it taps into this admiration.

Tell us about who supports your work in the community and how they support your efforts. How do members of the community contribute to your project?

Hardy Girls provides us with an outlet to be ourselves, and a place to make change happen. They support the GAB’s independent thinking as well as our developing presentations and workshops for girls. For young activists like myself, this little nest of feminists is the perfect place to start speaking out on issues that matter to girls and women. The support system HGHW provides is essential to the work that the members of GAB do.

Additionally, the University of Maine and Colby College have repeatedly donated food, time, space and energy to our efforts. HGHW’s various sponsors also aid us by providing us with the money needed to accomplish our goals.  The Sewell Foundation has funded environmental presentations, and the Bank of Maine helped fund a workshop on financial literacy.  Our families also are huge supporters of what we do in GAB, as are many foundations and individual supporters.

The members of GAB also support each other. In the beginning of each meeting we have a “check in” where we discuss things that have happened in our lives. This check-in is a time for us to show the respect we have for each other. The community is very supportive.

Why do you want to “speak out” to a global audience? How can they support your activism?

Myself, and the members of GAB, want to speak out to a global audience because we want to help create models of GAB in other parts of our country and the world. Since Maine is a rural state, I believe that models of GAB could be replicated in other rural communities around the world. I am interested in exchanging ideas about how to better my work as an activist and to gain a greater knowledge about other activist programs around the world. I believe that out of education comes empowerment and out of empowerment, equality.

Believing in girls and letting them take the reigns helps them develop leadership skills and confidence. Early empowerment strengthens self-esteem. This helps prevent early, unwanted pregnancy, depression, and remaining in abusive relationships. Girls become women who are equipped not only to survive within society’s antiquated ideology of what women should be, but, to change it.

What would you like to gain from this experience?

I dream about creating GAB models that are focused on youth-adult partnerships. I want to encourage people to listen to girls’ thoughts and ideas and to empower them by giving them a place to test those ideas. I want to teach girls that there is nothing wrong with them—that it’s the society we live in that’s the problem.  I want girls to know that they can make a difference, no matter their age. I want them to know that they too can start a revolution and cause a ruckus. I want to change our world.