We have been asked the same question a number of times now, so I thought I would address it in this week's post.
Why are your programs only for girls? It is a great question, because at SisuGirls, we strongly believe girls and boys should walk together and work in partnership, not in silos. In fact, many of our greatest advocates are males - from our fathers, to our partners, our brothers and our sons - their involvement is critical. However, we are also very much aware of a large number of young girls who do not feel comfortable and will not push themselves or be themselves in the presence of boys.
Interestingly I wasn't like that myself. I was keen to compete with the boys, and went to an all-boys school for several years, but my daughter is the opposite. She is not comfortable trying new pursuits if boys are around, with the fear of "being laughed at and not being very good" (her words not mine). Yes, I would love her to play sports and participate with boys equally, but I feel she needs some support and encouragement to get to that stage, which is why we designed SisuGirls. We believe by providing a safe, all-female environment, it will allow girls to build and develop their confidence to the stage where they feel prepared to play and participate, and to be themselves, alongside boys.
To back that up, an increasing number of studies also indicate the unique challenges that young girls face in comparison to young boys and the need for all-girls programming. In one study entitled “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America” , it demonstrated, among many other things that girls’ self-esteem decreases with age while boys’ self-esteem remains constant. These levels of self-esteem seem to be decreasing at an even faster rate. I am constantly perplexed with the self-harm statistics - previously 1 in 5 girls would self-harm, now it stands at 1 in 4. Earlier this week I was saddened to read about a 10-year old girl in Australia who took her life.
Self-harm, anxiety, self-esteem, body image, and relationship behaviour are just some of the challenges that are very real in today's world. We need to be creating safe places for girls (and boys) to be themselves, to have fun, to develop confidence and self-worth. There needs to be the opportunity to understand relationships, develop friendships, discuss bullying and topics such as body image in an environment of comfort.
Yes, I believe there is a need for a program like SisuGirls for boys too, and maybe that is something we will look at down the road. But at the moment, from my experiences as a woman, a mother, a wife, and a daughter my mission is to provide a safe space for girls to be themselves. I want all girls to develop self-confidence and pursue their dreams, and if that needs to happen in an all-girls environment for some girls, then that is what we will do.