June 2013Volume 18Number 5PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Girls’ empowerment groups: Shaping the next generation of female leaders

“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to ... achieve equal rights and dignity for all. This is a matter of basic human rights.”

—U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

It’s not easy for girls coming of age in today’s media-saturated world to develop a healthy sense of self-worth, self-respect, and purpose as they prepare for their futures. In order to emerge from their teen years as strong, happy, and confident young women, girls must learn to successfully navigate peer pressure and negative messages about girlhood and womanhood. These influences have the potential to negatively impact their self-esteem, identity development, health behaviors and ability to make positive life decisions.

Girls' empowerment programs can substantially undercut delinquency and victimization of girls. These programs identify the risk factors associated with female adolescent problem behaviors, such as failure to complete high school, teen pregnancy and parenting, low self esteem and prior victimization, to help prevent girls from entering the juvenile justice system. Once involved in the juvenile justice system, girl offenders can be rehabilitated with a curriculum that focuses on developing girls’ bonding, goal-setting skills, self-esteem, mental health, attachment to school, violence prevention, issues with authority and substance abuse prevention using such community-based programs, rather than the more intensive and restrictive institutional facilities.

Girls who are empowered with the information taught in these groups are equipped with tools and information to make positive choices and educated decisions regarding their lives. Such groups encourage the development of critical thinking skills and academic achievement, thus discouraging delinquent behavior.

Empowering Our Girlz (EOG) is a not-for-profit mentoring organization based in Chicago that serves as resource and network of support for girls ages 10-18. The organization’s goal is to empower young girls with their own potential to be leaders in their lives as well as in their communities. EOG’s core program provides a series of seminars lead by various community leaders with a goal to boost participants’ physical and social health. EOG’s vision is to assist girls with goal setting and ultimately achieving a higher level of success when it comes to graduating from high school. The E.O.G. Creed is:

E-Everything around me deserves respect and will receive it starting with above all myself.

O-Obstacles are the struggles that will build my strength and see me threw to success.

G-Greatness is what I have and great is who I AM

If you would like to learn more about Empowering Our Girlz, you may like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or call 773.305.7588.


Cultured Pearls Empowerment Group for Girls, founded in 2011, has provided many services for young girls, ages 10-17 in the Chicago-land area.  The participants are paired with professional business women who serve as mentors and advocates. They participate in character building series and workshops and give back to their community through community service, including volunteering at shelters, reading to children at the library and quilt-making for expectant teen mothers.  

The Cultured Pearls Web site states the following:

“We believe that empowerment originates from education. We are grounded in love and free from judgment, with the understanding that everyone has the ability to teach. We are committed to our community; our immediate community and beyond. We are committed to helping others. We are committed to renewing the spirit of our own. We use the media and the world around us as teachable moments in order to show our youth that the world that they wish to live in already exists, but is yet to be seen because it takes action and work. Every person on the staff (including mentors) of Cultured Pearls Empowerment Group for Girls has a story that needs to be told. We identify with our participants because we have lived through various circumstances and situations, we have all “beat the odds” in some kind of way and we all understand that we are where we are in life in order to help others.

We believe that we will be influential in reversing the statistics that apply to our young minority girls, one life at a time. We are “cultivating our girls for greatness” with bi-monthly meetings that focus on self esteem, health and wellness, higher education, and etiquette, with a foundation of service to our immediate community and those abroad.”

The De Kalb County Youth Services Bureau’s Girls Empowerment Group (GEP) encourages girls to seek and celebrate their “true selves” by giving them a safe space, encouragement, structure and support to embrace their important journey of self discovery.  A strength-based approach helps girls identify and apply their power and voice as individuals and as a group focusing on issues that are important in the lives of adolescent girls. Topics include learning about self, connecting with others, exploring healthy living and planning for the future. The aim of the program is to provide education and supportive counseling geared toward the specific needs of adolescent girls.

Winnebago, De Kalb and McHenry Counties have joined “Girls on the Run of Northwest Illinois,” a national organization that promotes healthy eating and body image for young girls from 3rd through 8th grade, as well as teaching about cooperation. The program combines training for a 5K running event with healthy living education. It instills self-esteem through health education, life skills development, mentoring relationships, and physical training, which are accomplished through an active collaboration with the girls and their parents, schools, volunteers, staff, and the community. Girls on the Run’s mission is to…”inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.”

During the 10-week program, girls learn a different lesson about topics such as self-respect, positive self-talk, healthy eating, body image, peer pressure, and bullying. Activity and team building are constant themes of Girls on the Run. The program’s motto is, “Preparing girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.” For more information about forming a Girls on the Run program in your community, please call 815.893.0259.

In McHenry County, Spring Grove has a girls’ empowerment group for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. This program provides a small group experience and it assists girls in strengthening their personal self development through discussion and self-awareness activities. By focusing on self-esteem, personal expression, and self respect, girls gain confidence and tap into their unique potential.

Girl Talk is an Atlanta, Georgia-based international non-profit peer-to-peer mentoring program in which high school girls mentor middle school girls to help them deal with the issues they face during their formative early teenage years. Its mission is to help teen girls build self-esteem, develop leadership skills and recognize the value of community service. Since 2002, Girl Talk has served more than 40,000 girls in 43 states and 7 countries.

Through weekly chapter meetings facilitated by high school Girl Talk leaders, Girl Talk helps middle school girls learn from their peer mentors and better understand and address the issues they face. The girls develop confidence, leadership skills and compassion. Girl Talk provides the curriculum of life lessons used to facilitate the discussions at no charge. For more information on Girl Talk, go to its Web site, www.mygirltalk.org.

The Internet is full of websites that reach out to girls around the world to inspire and empower them. I urge the reader to check out www.sheheroes.org, which lists its following Top 10 Websites that are helping to empower girls: 7Wonderlicious; Girls Can’t What?; Girl Talk (mentioned above); Targeting Teens; Educating Girls Matters; L’Oreal USA for Women in Science; Hardy Girls, Healthy Women; New Moon Girls, and Girls, Inc.

What can we do? For starters, we can advocate for laws and policies that will protect girls and promote girls empowerment. By closely scrutinizing the media, we can be aware of how race, gender roles, and stereotypes shape television programs, video games, books, music videos, cartoons, blogs, and Web sites. We can make sure that we consciously purchase products and support organizations that stress inclusion and convey positive messages about women. We can also commit to volunteering to mentor a girl or young woman and/or become directly involved in one of the many programs mentioned in this article or find one of our own online.

If young women grow up instilled with positive perceptions of themselves and informed in their choices, they can be the role models for future generations! ■


Mary F. Petruchius is a solo general practitioner in Sycamore, IL. She is the incoming 2013-2014 Chair of the Standing Committee on Women & the Law. Mary is also the CLE Coordinator for the Diversity Leadership Council and a member of the Child Law Section Council for 2013-2014. She can be reached at marypet@petruchiuslaw.com and her website is www.petruchiuslaw.com.

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