For parents, guardians, and other family members of girls, our recently released reports highlight deeply troubling problems: school-aged girls face immense barriers to learning as a result of trauma, systemic inequality based on identity, economic status, and ability status. Thousands of girls, perhaps including some of the girls in your life, are pushed out of school every year, often for preventable reasons. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, parents and guardians — and everyone else with school-aged girls in their families — have the power to be part of the solution to this problem. Here are five ways to get started.
Listen to the girls in your life. This might seem like a simple, obvious thing to do, that you’re probably already trying to do. But sometimes, in the rush of everyday life, it can be really hard to make time to really listen, without judgment, to the various issues and struggles the girls in your life might be having, be it with their peers, with their teachers, or even at home.
Or, if you’re an adult who was raised to defer to authority figures, or who was taught that young people should be more seen than heard, it may not come naturally to you to listen to children, especially in times when they’re in trouble at home or at school. It may not even occur to you to question what a teacher or principal says when your daughter (or other family member) has a completely different take on the same situation. But girls have important, valid perspectives on their lives and the ways they are treated by others. Hearing and respecting their perspectives teaches them that they can speak up to get the help they need to fix their problems, instead of shutting down or acting out, which often makes their problems worse.
Advocate for the girls in your life. Every kid needs at least one adult in their life who is always in their corner. Be a champion for the girls in your life, whether they’re your own daughters, or your granddaughters, or nieces, younger siblings, etc. Make sure that they know you’ve got their back no matter what, that you’ll believe them and stand up for them when they need you the most, and that you’ll be on their side if they’re being treated unfairly at school (or anywhere else).
Know your rights. Many of the barriers detailed in these reports aren’t just sad statistics, they’re violations of students’ rights. For example, students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Discrimination based on gender, or pregnancy and parenting status, or real or perceived sexual orientation, or in the aftermath of sexual harassment and assault, are prohibited under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other related local, state, and federal laws. Discrimination based on race, national origin, and language is prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other related local, state, and federal laws. Students who are homeless are entitled to help under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Students in the juvenile justice system are supposed to have access to instruction. The list goes on.
If you feel that the girls in your life aren’t getting everything they need to succeed at school (or outside of school, if they’re in the juvenile justice system), research whether there are specific accommodations or laws designed to help students like them. Find local organizations which help families of diverse groups of girls know their rights and deal with these often confusing processes and systems.
The National Women’s Law Center has also put together toolkits informing girls of color of their rights in school and how to combat discriminatory discipline policies, which you can access here: Let Her Learn toolkit. NWLC also has a toolkit detailing the rights of pregnant and parenting students as well.
Create a safe & loving home. The world can be a harsh, scary place, especially for girls. But while you can’t shield them from everything, girls who come from safe homes are more likely to stay safe in the rest of the world, too. Help the girls in your life succeed by accepting them for who they are, regardless of their identity. Find mental health services if they need them, and let them know there’s no shame in needing help to cope. Model nonviolent problem solving so they can learn how to deal with emotions and conflicts in healthy ways that won’t get them in trouble at school. Teach and respect consent at home, and hold everyone in your and your family’s life accountable for respecting consent. Learn the signs of sex trafficking so you can intervene before or as soon as possible after a child is targeted. Choose positive discipline instead of shaming and corporal punishment, which is linked to increases in mental health problems, increased risks of intimate partner violence in dating relationships, and behavioral and instructional problems at school, which in turn puts them at greater risk of entering the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Pledge to Let Her Learn. Take the pledge, then start making changes that can help you do better for the girls in your life. Learn more about the issues girls are facing, learn more about school discipline policies in the Let Her Learn toolkit, and if you have the time and ability, get involved at school, and connect with local and national organizations and campaigns that stand up for girls.
For more concrete recommendations of things you can do to support the girls in your life, find the report(s) most relevant to your family, and find the recommendations for parents/guardians and advocates toward the end.