This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl Child as prescribed by the UN is “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable”.  Lately, I have had conversations where people have tried to convince me that girls need help to become leaders.  That girls need training, support, mentorship, etc. to develop into strong effective leaders in the world.  And while I have no doubt that every girl can benefit from this kind of support, this sentiment seems to imply that girls are not already leading.  That girls don’t know how to lead so they need to be taught. This “deficit” view, focusing on what a girl doesn’t have as opposed to focusing on the assets she already has, can prevent you from seeing the leader in front of you.

Photo courtesy of Dandelion Africa

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child suggests that this deficit view does not accurately represent the power girls have and the leadership they already display.  On the world stage many girls have demonstrated leadership taking on issues with clarity, strength, and vision. Girls like Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg and Emma Gonzalez. These girls are “unscripted” and “unstoppable” and are now role models for millions around the world. 

Locally, in communities around the world, there are girls who bravely take on the barriers that impede and limit them, who demonstrate to their community their inherent value as girls, and who lead in ways that the adults around them can’t or won’t.  Nine of these girls are highlighted in films produced by an organization called Girl Rising.  These films show awesome examples of girls leading and being “unscripted” and “unstoppable” in their efforts.

In the last year, my 14 year old daughter is making her inner leader known in her own community at school.  She started the first middle school club focused on gender inclusivity. She is now on the debate team and voraciously consumes news about politics, the environment, and the state of the world.  My job is to support her as the leader she already is – to make sure she never succumbs to the negative messages out in the world designed to make her question and doubt her own leadership and her own voice.

So, to those people who can’t seem to find girl leaders in the world to get behind, try looking from a different vantage point.  This summer I spent time visiting Girl Up in Uganda.  There I met a young girl, maybe 9, who when asked what she was learning as a participant in Girl Up’s programming she said, “I am learning to trust in myself.”  There is a leader, right there. Leading her class, showing adults she has capacity, demonstrating she can be unstoppable. She’s right there, in front of you. Focus on her assets and you can see her.  Then, either step up to support the growth of the leader within her, and consider it a privilege to walk alongside her. Or just kindly step aside and let her lead.