As part of our International Day of the Girl Campaign, we’ve invited many amazing women to share their experiences of girlhood with guest blogs. Positive role modelling is an important part of building and maintaining girls’ confidence in themselves.
You can take part in the campaign by taking a minute to share advice for girls today on our virtual wall.
But first, meet today’s guest blogger, Caroline Whaley, Co-Founder of Shine for Women LLP and MD of Tiger for a Day Ltd.
Aged six, I lived a very charmed life. I had a secure home, loving parents, a happy school and nice friends. Even my cricket-mad eight-year-old brother let me bat occasionally, even if he did usually bowl me out on the first ball!
As far as I remember, and let’s be honest, it’s a long time ago – not far off 54 years ago, I had little to worry about. I had no idea that there was any other state of existence.
Looking back now, knowing what I do, I would just tell my six-year-old self to keep doing what you’re doing. Live life, love life, be the confident, happy little girl you are. You’ve got this.
The world will unfold as it’s meant to. Yes, there will be a few ups and downs, but nothing you can’t cope with. Nothing that won’t make you stronger.
Sadly, I now know that not every little girl grows up with the security and support that I enjoyed, which has led to my happy and healthy adult life.
As part of my time at the Nike Foundation, I created magazines and radio dramas with (and for) girls living in Africa that were designed to empower them and shift social norms.
I’m incredibly proud of the work we achieved during that time, but the reality is that my motivation to do great work came from the stories the girls told us of poverty, violence and hardship.
However, the more time I spent with these girls, the more I saw that despite their dire living conditions, teen spirit was more than alive and kicking. In fact, they didn’t want to discuss their difficulties, they wanted to talk about boys and movie stars, clothes and relationships.
They loved to learn, to chat, to dance, just like every other girl. When we played netball with them or shared pictures of our partners or chatted about the future as we collected water from the village well, they came alive and we saw their beauty and their confidence radiate.
I believe that much of that came from a belief that they had to grasp the best things in life, even the small things, to counteract the suffering in their lives.
They actively chose to focus on the joy of life, not the pain. On the friends that supported them, not the people who hurt them.
On the opportunities that education gave them to create a better future, not the challenges of a single bad day at school or a cross word with another girl.
They were so smart, so savvy, incredibly creative and resourceful.
In fact, looking back, they pushed us to be the best we could be so that they might benefit from the work we were doing – never letting us waste a minute or an opportunity. It was beautiful the way they also really looked after each other – their friends and their younger siblings. They were true role models.
The lessons I learnt from these incredible girls have never left me.
Despite their challenges, every one of them chose to let go of what they could not change and instead decided to choose joy, to strive for the best future they could possibly have, and most of all. to be great friends and supporters to the people that mattered most.
I have one particular arching memory of a magazine and radio show called Ni Nyampinga that we launched in Rwanda. The idea was that girls could call in to the radio show to ask their big questions and many got answered.
However, what happened as the girls grew in confidence, is that they started calling into the show to not ask questions, but to provide answers and advice.
What a moment of realisation! That when a young girl is empowered, she will naturally pass on that gift to others. And that is so special about girls.
Yes, I may have led a charmed existence at six and probably still do at 60, but I know without doubt that it’s not just the lessons we give to girls today, it’s the lessons they give to us.
I’m very aware that I’m not there now doing this work, but the team continues to support and nurture these amazing girls, many of whom have gone on to become team members of Ny Nyampinga.
News of another girl growing into the best version of herself continues to be the very best news I can receive.
But there is a final lesson here that we must not forget. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by a nurturing and supportive world.
Then, I was able to pass it on to the limited number of girls we worked with in Africa, and now to women in my current role as a coach and leader.
The reality is that every girl in the world deserves this and without consistent support, especially through the challenges all girls face in the modern world, they may never get to grow into strong women.
It is the work of amazing organisations like the Girls Friendly Society that do this day in and day out, releasing that incredible spirit that enables girls to fly.
Girls will always find a way but for it to endure, for every girl to truly fly, we must continue to feed and nurture that spirit until she is truly empowered herself and able to pass it on to the next girl.
Thank you to Caroline for sharing your story of girlhood. We hope all women reading this will join in by sharing their stories and advice on our virtual wall.