Where We’ve Been, What We’ve Done, Where We’re Going

UN Women holds panel: "What do the MDGs mean to me?" Voices of girls and women

Background: Soon after Girls Speak Out began, girls asked Andrea to have a place to meet girls from other places. Andrea and Gloria worked to create a conference that was free and run by girls for girls.
140 girls ages 9-16 from 40 states in the USA and ten other countries and 75 women created this global plan of action at  the historic First Girls’ Global Conference at UNICEF House in New York City on January 3rd and 4th, 1997. Girls came from big cities, tribal communities, small towns, islands, shelters, group homes and detention centers.
The Girls’ Steering Committee and women members of the National (USA) Girls’ Coalition represented 8 million girls and organized the conference. It was co-sponsored by the National Girls Coalition and UNICEF. Girls’ costs were covered by donations.
Girls ran the workshops, women were notetakers, and all-participant meetings replaced speech-making.The program for the First Girls Conference was adopted by the Girls’ Steering Committee of the National Girls Coalition from the Women’s Platform for Action developed at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing.
At the First Girls’ Conference, girls spoke out on three topics: Confronting Violence Against Girls, Girls Rights are Human Rights and Images of Girls in the Media. Over two days, each girl participated in girl-led workshops in each of these three areas.
The words in the following Girls’ USA Plans of Action are the girls’ words recorded in the workshops  as transcribed and organized by Andrea Johnston, co-founder of Girls Speak Out and Convener of the National Girls’ Coalition. The words in the Girls Global Plan of Action come from the girls themselves, with changes made only for clarity and to avoid repetition. Please contact Girls Speak Out Worldwide for more information. This is not copyrighted material.
Guess what? Here’s proof that similar feelings, dreams, intelligence, sophistication and plans are shared by girls who come from very different places. Girls are truly one powerful and essential force.
Need Inspiration? FIND IT HERE–Want to do something you believe in about violence, the media and/or girls’ rights?

2015 is this historical document’s 18th Anniversary, and
the power of girls’ words still moves us ….


Violence Against Girls is All Around Us


Girls should be safe wherever we are, and not be intimidated. We know about violence because it’s something we see and feel. We learned about it as little kids, from media like television, movies, video games, music and from what happens around us. You can’t be too young or too old to know violence can happen to you, and that it’s not your fault. We have to teach each other that violence is not our fault, that no one should tolerate it, and that it can be changed. We need to understand that sexual abuse of children, for example, is bad and wrong, not just gross. We are not surprised at statistics that show violence affects us more than it does boys. Violence makes us feel isolated and alone, and it also makes us want to protect ourselves. We each experience some kind of violence in our lives: it can be emotional (treated like we’re invisible or sexually harassed), physical (being hit), mental (being made fun of), economic (living below the poverty line), or it can seem self-inflicted like anorexia and bulimia. It can happen in our homes (domestic violence), at school, on the streets, and wherever we go. Violence is unwanted and unnecessary. Some people think they can do anything they want to us. They get that idea from what they see around them, including the media. Even children sheltered from the media are influenced by other people who become violent. People who commit violent acts rationalize them so they don’t have to admit they are wrong even though a girl could be hurt for life.

What Happens To Girls


Some girls are abused, even though all of us (including girls who live in other countries) have the right to be respected by everyone. We can stand up for ourselves. It’s important that we tell what’s happening to us. We have the right to tell someone we trust. Violence is about power and control. Rape is not about sex, and enjoying your body–it’s about power. Pornography is about controlling females. Domestic violence is about power, too: whether it leaves a mark on your body or not, it’s more than that mark that hurts you.Things would be better if men were not always the rulers in the house, and if more women stood up to men. There must be more use of positive reinforcement like praise and thanks. Parents should be responsible, and there should be parenting lessons. They should acknowledge that being a parent is a privilege, and not a right. The system should educate parents or anyone who is violent against girls to stop the violence. The system doesn’t protect us from people who harm girls; for example, there should be better screening of people who work in schools and with children.We know that when you have problems as a girl, you could still have them as an adult unless you talk and do something about them. People in prison often have histories of child abuse. When girls talk about sexual abuse in groups like the ones at the First National Girls Conference, it helps take the pain away, and makes you feel strong.
Violence against girls isn’t taken seriously even though it’s hurtful, degrading and harmful to us. When we see a girl who’s badly neglected, for example, it makes us very sad and angry that she isn’t protected. Some girls are scared to do anything about the situation they are in, even to talk to teachers in school. Even if they don’t ask us, it may be a good idea to do something to help other girls. A tradition like Female Genital Mutilation, that some people practice in this country, is violence against girls. It’s not acceptable, and we can make laws against it. Girls should not be scared and in pain.

Girls should be in safe and supportive environments. We need to be respected as human beings.

What Girls Can Do To Be Safe

1. Don’t accept violence; speak out about it and stand up against it
2. Inform all girls of their right not to be violated at any age; teach girls about sexual abuse early, and about letting someone know if it happens to them
3. Provide knowledge of help and resources to all girls
4. Work to make shelters and hot lines more accessible and more known
5. Find or create support groups and female self-defense classes in our home communities 6. Demand institutional support; for example, petition to get mandatory co-ed self-defense classes as part of physical education

7. Lead and organize awareness classes about violence for friends and other people
8. Organize peer support groups for victims of rape and abuse, and ask abuse victims who are girls to teach and run these groups

9. Create a Confronting Violence Against Girls Web page, Chat room, hashtag and newsletter

10. Have girls do public service announcements about violence

11. Contact other groups of girls about the First National Girls Conference

12. Network with girls so they can get this information, too

13. Get girls together and go to schools and other groups and talk about violence

14. Demand that family shelters have counseling for and with abused children

15. Organize crime watches with girl-friendly people to make streets safe 16. Don’t forget that bulimia and anorexia are violence against our bodies, too

17. Demand a safe way for girls to anonymously report abuse without fear

18. Pay attention to and teach about emotional as well as physical and sexual abuse

19. Talk about sexual abuse, not just as disgusting and horrible, but illegal

20. Inform leaders in community (teachers and police) of violent acts against girls

21. Expand amount of behaviors against girls that are considered illegal and learn about what laws can protect us

22. Tougher laws for abusers who abuse anyone

23. Educate the people who do the violence so they stop

24. Take home the information we learned at the First National Girls Conference, and have mini-conferences in our states

25. Get the media involved in something positive like educating girls about violence for a change

26. Sometimes one action can lead to others; for example, telling about a teacher touching you in a way that feels uncomfortable can encourage other girls to speak out

27. Get parents involved: for example, curfews should be given by parents, and parents should have parenting lessons that encourage them to communicate with kids about violence

28. Ask for extensive background checks on adults who interact with children and adolescents

29. People who are violent against girls should be monitored upon release from prison

30. Help pedophiles (people who abuse children) as well as punish them–they were probably abused as kids, too

31. Get support for victims of violence

32. Work for stricter media guidelines prohibiting violence against girls in the media

33. Create and use networks of girls to spread stories of girls who successfully fought the system and overcame violence

34. “Girlcott” products that promote violence

35. Have trained mentors or someone to confide in (not necessarily an adult) through community organizations, schools, etc. if violence is threatening a girl’s safety in any way

36. Ask victims of violence to provide counseling for other victims

37. Have self-esteem classes taught in schools as a subject like math and science

38. Form girl-support groups in girls’ organizations,

schools, homes, etc.

39. Teachers should be trained to help support victims

and/or to help teach classes about violence with girls

40. Use peaceful resistance like Rosa Parks and

Sojourner Truth

41. Teach parents that violence isn’t okay

42. Ask for and use conflict resolution programs in


43. Make women aware of safe places to go

44. Don’t tolerate abuse in home, specifically sexual,

verbal and physical abuse

45. Educate teachers, police, principals, guidance

counselors, etc.

46. Bring girls and women who have experienced

violence into schools to talk to children and teachers

47. Create and/or support local or national day(s)

protesting violence against girls that’s run by girls

48. Create our own media spreading the word about

peace and nonviolence (flyers, speeches, newsletters,

Web pages, and billboards, etc.)

II. Images of Girls in the Media
Whose Reality?

Girls should be portrayed as everything.
The media should offer truthful, positive role models for girlsandweshould not be exploited by the media. Wearephysically diverse, in all shapes and sizes, fromdifferent cultures, races, and classes, with different abilities and preferences. Girls are strong, healthy, balanced, heroic, independent and self-assured. We see “beautiful” as having some of these qualities: kind, POWERFUL, intellligent, motivated, noble, unique, of a strong heart and mind, respectful of yourself and others, having self-esteem, including how everyone looks.Girls can redefine what’s beautiful, not have the media do this for us.

Media Images of Us

Most images of girls in the media are stereotypes.

Girls are often portrayed as skinny, blond, white,

helpless/incapable, victims, sweet, bimbos, fluffy,

dumb/ditzy airheads, connivers who want to catch

males, shown as possessions, always late, influenced

by boyfriends, only concerned with clothes and boys,

clumsy, weak, fragile, fake, ignorant, easy sex

objects, not saving the day and hos. Normal girls are

outcasts. Some music lyrics trash girls. The media

emphasizes girls’ sexuality and sees teenagers as a

problem. Girls in the media are judged by their looks,

they’re shown as afraid to be adventurous and

they’re not interesting.

Girls Already Know the Media Can Be Sexist and


But even so, not all girls know they don’t have to

measure up to sexist standards in most of the media.

Some girls feel inadequate because others will judge

them by the media’s impossible “Barbie” standards.

In addition, our spirituality is left out. Media images

can affect a girl’s subconscious. Sometimes images of

girls in the media control girls’ lives and they don’t

know it. For example, some girls feel they must diet in

order to be beautiful and they become anorexic and

bulimic. Girls should be free to look however they

want–the goal is to have more realistic images of

girls in the media.

Girls Can be Heard

We can look beyond the negativity about us in the

media. We can support what’s positive. We can set

high goals, be strong, and still be girls. We can make

girls valuable. We are consumers with power. We can

go to the people in control of the media and we can

also become the people in control. We know our

efforts may spark other action and change may come

later, even if what we do now doesn’t seem to be

having any effect. We need to start awareness early

for boys and girls, and teach gender equity ourselves.

Guys need to understand. We can discuss the

consequences of media images of girls, and make it

clear that it affects us in many ways we want to


How To Change Images of Girls in the Media

1. Be role models and accept different looks

2. Organize and work for change alone and together

3. Be public about our feelings about the media:

4. Be public about the positive things we do

5. Be sure of ourselves; support positive individual

images of girls we know

6. Promote the good stuff, teen and girl magazines,

shows, movies, music, videos, etc.

7. Support truthful portrayals of girls

8. Make girls around us aware of our value

9. Get support, use connections with people we

respect who respect us

10. Tell women they shouldn’t accept unfair

portrayals either

11. Be strong and try not to be affected by what

people say

12. Have famous models come out without make-up

and show us that they look like everyone else

13. Promote healthier images of girls

14. Involve friends

15. Just don’t accept harmful images, replace them

Suggestions for Action

1. Don’t watch or buy what’s negative towards girls

and/or women

2. Put warning signals on untruthful, anti-girl

products yourself even if manufacturers don’t

3. Communicate with corporations and celebrities

4. “Girlcott”: petition and advertise against bad ads,

and tell others what real beauty is

5. Write letters over and over to different people

6. Teach awareness classes/educate others

7. Involve your community in girl-led groups

8. Start a Web page, Chat Room about Girls in the


9. Create realistic commercials we’d like (figure out

how to get in touch with the right people)

10. Help with writing TV shows and movies when

you’re a kid, then work to the top

11. Do public service announcements

12. Get involved with other help groups; teach them

to teach others

13. Organize girls to help younger girls to control and

create media

14. Educate girls on self-inflicted violence like

anorexia and bulimia

15. Have peer groups meet at school

16. Reach out to strippers, hookers, etc., telling them

they could have other choices and respect their


17. Include education for boys and men

18. Get involved with TV, music, movies, and

advertising to change it

19. Put pressure on government to support girls in

the media

20. Encourage the use of natural images and selling

without using females as objects and

21. Ask advertisers to have more normal looking

people doing realistic things

22. Don’t Stop! Be Heard!!

III. Girls Rights are
Human Rights

Girls are individuals with unique, natural rights equal to those of other humans. Some people don’t accept girls as human beings. We are organizing a Girls’ Movement that celebrates our rightto be ourselves and we’re speaking out about unfairess.We are defining our own rights, and weare determined to change negative assumptions and stereotypes about us. We want to change traditional roles for girls that are sexist, racist and ageist, and encourage nontraditional roles so we can have more choices and be ourselves all our lives.We are making history–her-story–when we decide to help change what’s not fair to us and while we know females have been erased from history for being powerful, we will stand up for what we believe in even if we stand alone. We also know there is strength in acting together.

We will include boys at different times because in order to make the world a better place for girls we have to include all of us. We have a feminist point of view that means everyone matters. We respect and empathize with other points of view while we expect others to do that for us.

Girls won’t deal with it. We’ll change it!

Girls Have The Right To

1. be who we are all the time

2. feel our individual feelings

3. express our feelings

4. voice an opinion without being laughed at

5. have the same opportunities as boys

6. not be shunned because of our background

7. enjoy a safe environment

8. be President

9. reproductive choice and abortion

10. love whomever we want

11. decide to raise a child with or without a man

12. demand respect

13. depend on ourselves

14. be listened to

15. be portrayed fairly and accurately

16. be free

17. stand up for ourselves

18. tell about abuse/ tell secrets that hurt us

19. control our physical, emotional, intellectual and sexual selves

20. say “no”

21. wear miniskirts without being judged for it

22. play pro basketball

23. have women’s football on TV

24. the same opportunities as boys wherever we are

25. enter any career we choose

26. break down the glass ceiling

27. to be a model without make-up

28. not have to defend rights for us that males have

29. to be heard without age discrimination

30. express our femininity without shame or embarrassment

31. the remote control

32. depend on the people we choose to depend on

33. be self-confident

34. economic power

35. speak out

36. be feminists

37. travel

38. an education

39. buy and inherit property

40. learn girls’/women’s her-story

41. learn about history without gender and age bias

42. be aware of resources to create change

43. be female activists

44. promote awareness about ending stereotypes about us that some girls still follow

45. positive images of us in the media
46. work in nontraditional jobs like fishing crews and construction

47. be unique

48. freedom of thought

49. feel safe

50. be religious or non-religious

51. optimum health

52. choose a partner of our choice

53. be creative

54. get help when needed

55. equal rights under the law

56. equal funding for sports

57. our opinion

58. equal access to equipment for sports

59. speak out about biases and correct them

60. organize meetings

61. give out information on girls’ and children’s rights

62. urge government to ratify (approve) girls’ and children’s rights

63. protest by defying unfair rules

64. raise the consciousness of people in schools and in our communities

65. organize strikes and protests

66. experience strength in acting together

67. try to remedy co-education with single-sex schools for girls

68. enlist the support of boys in the Girls’ Movement

69. change the point of view of anti-female commercials

70. make sexual harassment of girls more public like the armed forces scandal

71. have girls’ self-esteem training begin with parents and extend to school and public at large

72, change old rules and customs

73. support people who stand up to injustices

74. think

75. be successful

76. do as you please

77. live

78. be happy

79. love

80. have fun

81. be beautiful

82, defend these rights

83. make these rights public

84. enforce Title IX

85. stop sexual abuse, including incest and Female Genital Mutilation

86. conduct her-story classes ourselves

87. speak out against end of welfare for girls

88. go to the highest officials to begin change; go to school board meetings

89. be on school boards and boards of organizations dealing with girls’ issues

90. a special counselor or committee to deal with school problems for girls

91. equal pay

92. food and shelter, basic needs like water and clothes

93. medical research

94. choice of health care

95. participate in all Olympic sports

96. fair representation in law

97. be protected by police, courts

98. privacy

99. equal custody if we want it

100. use all the rights we have now

101. gain confidence and self-esteem

102. our own publications

103. see and hear ourselves in the same powerful, positive way we see others advertised

104. educate others, including younger kids (under 9 years old) and older people

105. have more intimate, personal learning experiences in school and other institutions

106. single-parent families

107. care for the planet’s creatures

108. protect the environment and animals


1. know how to direct power; ask to join board of directors and advisory boards of companies that work for girls

2. make people (everyone) aware

3. change media/perception of girls and women

How To Enforce Girls’ Rights

Start a newsletter to stay informed and connected

Distribute this plan of action to local and national political leaders, to boys’, girls’ and women’s organizations and to the media

Use e-mail for ideas and international communication

Organize international girls’ conference

Fundraise to create girls’’ rights’ groups

Get special library sections for girls’ issues and her-story

Be female activists when we go back home and teach awareness

Have schools give equal time to intellectual pursuits and athletics

Have a Web site and Chat Room

Write for newspapers and magazines

Create a place in our communities where girls can get information about our rights and how to get them enforced

Involve boys in education about girls’ rights

Have adults in classes taught by girls

Use TV and media to talk about girls’ rights: learn how to get to the people in charge

Tell other girls what we do where we meet

Visit other schools by organizing a system to spread girls’’ rights’ information

Explain (when you’re back home) to younger girls (under 9) what is happening with girls’ rights

Demand self-esteem groups at school run by girls with help from women mentors who listen to us and respect us

Talk to a teacher about fairness in the classroom

Report sexual harassment

Create a network with women mentors for girls in our own towns

Educate parents

Learn about the Women’s Movement and other movements for social change

Lead the Girls’ Movement!


1. make girls aware of what their rights are

2. have class informing girls of their rights

3. conduct her-story classes

4. stand up for injustices at school

5. agitate for change

6. band together, have a strike

7. speak out against end of welfare for girls

8. go to the highest officials to begin change

9. go to schoolboard meetings-(policy maker) to principal, superintendent

10. get public to know what your grievances are

11. make school aware of scheduling difficulties for sports

12. physical task assigned to boys–bring attention to this practice

13. equalize opportunities for girls in clubs i.e. Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts

14. learn all you can about your rights and don’t give up

15. nontraditional employment for women (NEW)

16. have a special committee or counselor to deal with school problems for girls

17. form a club to support your issues

18. girls movement–include boys or not?

19. enlist aid of boys, bring them in

20. create informative posters that are all inclusive

21. drugs, alcohol, tell people what it does, try to get them to stop



1. change school policies

2. start groups for change

3. educate others boys/men other girls/women other younger kids

4. write for newspapers, letters to editor, etc. make own publication

5. Web site

6. use the rights we have now

7. gain confidence, self-esteem

8. get support from family and friends

9. get connected


Create a place where girls can get information about our rights Boys and fathers should get involved

Web page and chat room

Have adults and children in classes

Use the rights you have now and use them in the future

Use TV to announce girls’ rights

Tell girls what we did here

Be able to organize as system to visit other schools as well as our own

Include political leaders

Explain (when you’re back home) to younger girls what is happening (ages 7 and under)

More women’s herstory

Use the right to self-esteem groups at school run by girls with help from women who know about us

Talk to a teacher about fair rights

You have the right to report contact abuse

You have the right to say no

You have the same rights when it comes to jobs (money and paycheck)

Create a mentor network for girls in their own towns

Do outreach programs for communities where women and girls are taught discipline

Educate parents

Be happy!

Where have our words been used to help change the world?






Sri Lanka










Puerto Rico





South Africa


Gaza Strip





Sierra Leone